Saint Nicholas of Flue

Feast day March 22

Saints Stories for All Ages

The Swiss affectionately call St.Nicholas of Flue “BrotherKlaus.” They revere him as a great holy man and political counselor, who contributed significantly to the formation of their peace-loving nation.

From his youth in Unterwalden, Switzerland, Nicholas was a member of a Catholic lay association called the Friends of God. Scattered throughout Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany, members sought closeness to Christ through a disciplined life, especially by meditation on his passion.

Though totally dedicated to peace, twice patriotism led Nicholas to fight in wars to defend Unterwalden. At age thirty he married Dorothy Wissling, and during twenty happy years she bore him ten children.

At age fifty, however, Nicholas sensed God’s call to live a contemplative life as a hermit. Dorothy, also a member of the Friends of God, would not be opposed to such a desire. She believed that Nicholas had a divine commission, and she and the children released him. So Nicholas left his family and spent the next twenty years in a remote cottage at Ranft. He prayed most of the night, but in afternoons he welcomed visitors. It is reported, but not confirmed, that during these years he took no food or drink, only Holy Communion.

In 1481, Nicholas played a major role in solidifying the unity of Switzerland. After the cantons secured independence by defeating the German king, Charles the Bold, a dispute threatened to divide the cantons. Representatives meeting at Stans disagreed over admitting Fribourg and Soleure to the confederation. However, at an impasse they consulted Brother Klaus. Within an hour after obtaining his advice, they agreed to include the territories.

A document from that period preserved Nicholas’s fundamental political wisdom.

Always put God first, he said, and do not extend too widely the country’s frontiers that you may live more easily in peace, union and faithfulness to your dearly attained liberties. Do not mix in the affairs of others or ally yourself with a powerful stranger. Protect your country and do not hold yourself distant from it. Do not let grow among you self-interest, jealousy, hatred, envy and factions, or these will work against you. Dear friends, don’t let innovations and roguery seduce you. Hold on to the good, all of you together. Stay on the road in the footprints of your pious ancestors. Guard faithfully that which has been assigned to you. If you do that, neither storm nor tempest can harm you and you will overcome much evil.

Six years after the Stans meeting, on December 21, 1487, Nicholas died at Ranft after an illness of eight days.

from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi

Image credit: Nicholas of Flue by unknown artist, unknown date. Public Domain via Wikimedia.