Blessed Nicholas of Flüe
Born 21 March, 1417, on the Flüeli, a fertile plateau near Sachseln, Canton
Obwalden, Switzerland; died 21 March, 1487, as a recluse in a neighboring ravine,
called Ranft. He was the oldest son of pious, well-to-do peasants and from his
earliest youth was fond of prayer, practiced mortification, and conscientiously
performed the labor of a peasant boy. At the age of 21 he entered the army and
took part in the battle of Ragaz in 1446. Probably he fought in the battles near
the Etzel in 1439, near Baar in the Canton of Zug in 1443, and assisted in the
capture of Zürich in 1444. He took up arms again in the so-called Thurgau war
against Archduke Sigismund of Austria in 1460. It was due to his influence that
the Dominican Convent St. Katharinental, whither many Austrians had fled after
the capture of Diessenhofen, was not destroyed by the Swiss confederates.
Heeding the advice of his parents he married, about the age of twenty-five, a
pious girl from Sachseln, named Dorothy Wyssling, who bore him five sons and
five daughters. His youngest son, Nicholas, born in 1467, became a priest and a
doctor of theology. Though averse to worldly dignities, he was elected cantonal
councillor and judge. The fact that in 1462 he was one of five arbiters
appointed to settle a dispute between the parish of Stans and the monastery of
Engelberg, shows the esteem in which he was held. After living about twenty-five
years in wedlock he listened to an inspiration of God and with the consent of
his wife left his family on 16 October, 1467, to live as a hermit. At first he
intended to go to a foreign country, but when he came into the neighborhood of
Basle, a divine inspiration ordered him to take up his abode in the Ranft, a
valley along the Melcha, about an hour's walk from Sachseln. Here, known as
Brother Klaus, he abode over twenty years, without taking any bodily food or
drink, as was established through a careful investigation, made by the civil as
well as the ecclesiastical authorities of his times. He wore neither shoes nor
cap, and even in winter was clad merely in a hermit's gown. In 1468 he saved the
town of Sarnen from a conflagration by his prayers and the sign of the cross.
God also favored him with numerous visions and the gift of prophecy.
Distinguished persons from nearly every country of Europe came to him for
counsel in matters of the utmost importance. At first he lived in a narrow hut,
which he himself had built with branches and leaves, and came daily to Mass
either at Sachseln or at Kerns. Early in 1469 the civil authorities built a cell
and a chapel for him, and on 29 April of the same year the chapel was dedicated
by the vicar-general of Constance, Thomas, Bishop of Ascalon. In 1479 a chaplain
was put in charge of the chapel, and thenceforth Nicholas always remained in the
Ranft. When in 1480 delegates of the Swiss confederates assembled at Stans to
settle their differences, and civil war seemed inevitable, Henry Imgrund, the
pastor of Stans, hastened to Nicholas, begging him to prevent the shedding of
blood. The priest returned to the delegates with the hermit's counsels and
propositions, and civil war was averted. Nicholas was beatified by Pope Clement
IX in 1669. Numerous pilgrims visit the chapel near the church of Sachseln,
where his relics are preserved. His feast is celebrated on 21 March.
MING, Der selige Nicolaus von Flüe, sein Leben und Wirken (4 vols., Lucerne, l861-78); VON AH, Des seligen Einsiedlers Nikolaus von Flüe wunderbares Leben (Einsiedeln, l887); BAUMBERGER, Der sel. Nikolaus von Flüe (Kempten and Munich, 1906); Acta SS., III, March, 398-439 WETZEL, Der sel. Nikolaus von Flüe (Einsiedeln, l887; Ravensburg, l896) tr. into Italian, MONDADA (Turin, 1888); DE BELLOC, Le bienheureux Nicolas de Flüe et la Suisse d'autrefois (Paris, 1889); BLAKE, A hero of the Swiss Republic in The Catholic World, LXV (New York, 1897), 658-673.
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