Nicholas was born on March 21, 1417, in Switzerland. He was the eldest son of peasant parents who were very devout Catholics. Nicholas later took his name, Flue, from the name of the Flueli River, which flowed near his birthplace.
As a young man, Nicholas was very fond of praying and also practiced mortification. When he was twenty-one years old, he joined the army and was involved in the battle of Ragaz in 1446. He also engaged in the so-called Thurgau war against Archduke Sigismund of Austria. Because of his intercession, Swiss confederates did not destroy the convent of St. Katharinental.
When Nicholas was twenty-five he married a woman named Dorothea Wissling who bore him ten children, five sons and five daughters. The youngest son became a priest and doctor of theology. Nicholas became magistrate and was a highly respected counselor. He turned down the office of governor several times and had no interest in pursuing a political career.
In 1467, with the consent of his wife and family, Nicholas embraced the life of a hermit and built a small hut made out of branches and leaves. His austerity was extreme. Even in the winter he didn’t wear either a cap or shoes. For the rest of his life he lived entirely without food, except for the Holy Eucharist. Because he became well-known for his piety and wisdom, many visited him, including civic leaders. In fact, dignitaries from all over Europe came to this humble man for counsel. In 1469, the civil authorities built a cell and a chapel for him where he resided for the remainder of his life.
In 1480 delegates of the Swiss confederates met at Stans to try to settle their differences; however, civil war seemed inevitable. The pastor of Huns, Henry Imgrund, went to Nicholas and pleaded with him to intervene and prevent war. Nicholas agreed to go to the delegates with his counsels and proposals and the civil war was indeed averted.
Nicholas died on his seventieth birthday on March 21, 1487. He was canonized in 1947.
Nicholas is one of the best-known and beloved religious figures in Switzerland. He was affectionately called “Bruder Klaus” or Brother Klaus. He is the patron saint of Switzerland.
Saint Nicholas, intercede for us that we might keep our hearts free of earthly distractions and unite ourselves to God. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Isidore the Farmer (1130), Patron of farmers (some dioceses)
image: Saint Nicholas of Flue. Etching after J.W. Baumgärtner via Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)