There are many great works at the Accademia in Florence, Italy – the most famous being Michelangelo’s “David” – but what left the greatest impression on me was the “Allegory for Fortitude and Strength”. From the first moment I saw it, I was completely captivated. It is wholly different from other allegories of fortitude that I have seen. It exudes strength manifested through surety and confidence. She does not need to be stern. Her presence is enough. She is relaxed in victory, but still vigorous. She is playful and this is the key to the allegory. She is not simply holding her scepter nor wielding it; rather, she is almost playing with it while her thoughts are elsewhere. There is a bit of Tulkas in her. The perfection of fortitude includes laughter, a twinkling of the eyes that comes from knowing nothing can overcome you. Perhaps there is a bit of old Tom Bombadil in her as well.
For a week I could do nothing, but sing the praises of Fortitude. She had become for me the ideal of all women. The following week though I saw the above statue of St. Clare of Assisi in San Rufino, Assisi’s cathedral. Upon seeing this statue I was awestruck and dumbfounded. Before me was not an allegory of fortitude, but the reality. The statue refers to an episode in the life of Clare of Assisi when the city was preserved from invading Muslims. Though sick at the time she was brought out and she carried with her our Eucharistic Lord. Raising Him up as a shield and praying for the preservation of the city, the Muslims fled. In the statue above, however, we see her holding our Lord close to her heart. The allegory, as is always the case, falls short of reality. St. Clare teaches us that true fortitude springs forth from love and devotion. Its surety is rooted in trust; it is a confidence not in ourselves, but in Another. Fortitude is attained through prayer and the one who attains the virtue of fortitude is also the one who has quieted their heart.