ST. Nicholas of Flüe
21 March 2023
Nicholas of Flüe (German: Niklaus von Flüe; 1417 – 21 March 1487) was a Swiss hermit and ascetic who is the patron saint of Switzerland. He is sometimes invoked as Brother Klaus. A farmer, military leader, member of the assembly, councillor, judge and mystic, he was respected as a man of complete moral integrity. He is known for having fasted for over twenty years. Brother Klaus's counsel to the Diet of Stans (1481) helped prevent war between the Swiss cantons.
In 1417, Nicholas was born in the village Flüeli near Sachseln, in the canton of Unterwalden as the eldest son of wealthy peasants. He had two brothers named Eglof and Peter. The families surname von Flüe comes from a rock (Fluh=Flüe). He was baptized in Kerns. In 1431/1432 he accompanied his father to the local peasants council and was therefore admitted as a member of the free peasants of Obwalden.

At the age of 21 he enrolled in the army and during the Old Zürich War, waged against the canton of Zurich by the rest of the Old Swiss Confederacy, Nicholas distinguished himself as a soldier and took part in the Battle of Ragaz in 1446. He later took up arms again in the so-called Thurgau war against Archduke Sigismund of Austria in 1460. It was thanks to Nicholas' influence that a house of the Dominican nuns, the convent of St. Katharinental, where many Austrians had fled after the capture of Diessenhofen, escaped being destroyed by the Swiss confederates. They farmed in the municipality of Flüeli in the alpine foothills, above Sachseln on the Lake Sarnen. He also continued to serve in the military to the age of 37, rising to the rank of captain. He reportedly fought with a sword in one hand and a rosary in the other. After leaving military service, he became a councillor for his canton and then in 1459, for nine years, served as a judge. He declined the opportunity to serve as Landammann (governor) of his canton.

After receiving a mystical vision of a lily eaten by a horse, which he recognized as indicating that the cares of his worldly life (the draft horse pulling a plough) were swallowing up his spiritual life (the lily, a symbol of purity), he decided to devote himself entirely to the contemplative life. In 1467, he left his wife and his ten children with her consent rescinded all his political duties and aimed to join a mystic brotherhood near Basel. A few miles away in Waldenburg, he saw three visions that made him understand his aim was not the one of gods and made him return towards the Melchtal, near his former home as he didn't dare to return home. Discovered a few days after his arrival by some hunters, he eventually set himself up a hermit in the Ranft chine in Switzerland, establishing a chantry for a priest from his own funds so that he could assist at mass daily. Having arrived in the Ranft, he began to fast and after having received the consent of Oswald Yssner, the priest in Kerns he didn't eat anymore. Upon Yssner’s doubt and insistence for a clarification, Niklaus explained that he only from assisting a mass in which a priest enjoys the sacramental bread, received enough nourishment. Symbolic visions continued to be a feature of his contemplation, and he became a spiritual guide whose advice was widely sought and followed. His reputation for wisdom and piety was such that notables and clergy from across Europe came to seek advice from him. The Benedictine abbot of Sponheim Johannes Trithemius convinced by the reports he heard from people who met Niklaus, compared him with Saint Anthony. In 1470, Pope Paul II granted the first indulgence to the sanctuary at Ranft and it became a pilgrimage site on the Way of Saint James, a pilgrims' route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. His counsel prevented a civil war between the cantons meeting at the Diet of Stans in 1481, when their antagonism grew. Despite being illiterate and having limited experience with the world, he is honored among both Protestants and Catholics with the permanent national unity of Switzerland. The Archduke Sigismund sent him a gilded chalice in 1473 and 100 Guilders in 1481. Letters of thanks to him from Berne and Soleure still survive. When he died, on 21 March 1487, he was surrounded by his wife and children.

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