Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of Switzerland, was born in the year 1417 and was the oldest son of two wealthy peasants. He joined the army at the age of 21 and participated as an infantryman in the battle of Ragaz before taking part in battle against Zurich which at the time had rebelled against the Swiss confederation. In 1460, he was called into service in the Thurgau war against Archduke Sigismund of Austria.
At 30, Saint Nicholas married the daughter of a local farmer, Dorothea Wyss though he still served in the Swiss army. At 37, at the rank of Captain, he had formed a reputation of fighting in battle with one hand clutching the sword, the other clutching his rosary tight. He was elected councilor and judge for his canton in 1459 by a populace that loved and respected him. He served in this position for nine years before declining the opportunity to become Landamman or governor of his canton.
Everything changed one day though when he experienced a miraculous vision upon the hill side. While sitting in a meadow one afternoon, he began to pray from his heart. In his biography, Heinrich Wolfin wrote:
"Suddenly he saw a white lily with a wonderful fragrance sprout from his mouth, which soon reached up to heaven. Then his cattle passed him, from whose produce he looked after the family. He looked down for a while. His eye was fixed on a horse that was more beautiful than any other. Now he saw how the lily from his mouth bent over this horse and was devoured by the animal as it passed. He was taught by this vision. He realized that the treasure to be acquired in heaven by no means goes to those who pursue the goods of happiness, and further, that like the seed of the word of God it suffocates under the thorns when the worries and interests of earthly life mingle with it. "
Saint Nicholas took this vision to mean that the cares of his life on earth were destroying (or eating) away at his spiritual life and call to holiness. He returned home and prayed well into the night before approaching his wife with the call he believed he had received. He felt deeply in his heart that God had called him to abandon the world and become a hermit, a call that would mean leaving his family, a family that just welcomed it's 10th member. Heroically, his wife believed in this calling and consented with his desire to become a hermit. His older children and neighbors believed him to be a madman and judged him harshly.
He left home intending to settle at Alsace, but a sudden storm made him turn away. As he walked, Saint Nicholas began to suffer an unknown medical condition where he became nearly incapable of eating or drinking - any attempt brought severe agony. He would survive the rest of his life only on the Eucharist. His walk brought him back to his home Canton where he formed a hermitage at Ranft. It was here he spent his own funds to help establish a chantry for a priest so that mass could be celebrated daily. It was also here that his miraculous visions continued.
His most famous vision was described by Saint Nicholas as the Holy Face at the center of a circle with three sword tips touching the two eyes and mouth, while another three swords radiated outwards in a sixfold symmetry.
Over the next few years, townspeople and leaders alike came to visit Saint Nicholas as they began to recognize his sanctity and reality of his vocation. Political leaders from all across Europe were beginning to come to him, affectionally calling him Brother Klaus. Duke Sigismund of the Tirol began to visit as well, seeking advice. Soon Switzerland found itself on the precipice of civil war, with the rural cantons opposing Zurich. A conference that was held in 1481 at Stans failed to reach a peaceful agreement. The delegates were to return home the next day and the plans for war would begin. Saint Nicholas's priest rushed back to Ranft and told him of the situation. Overnight, Saint Nicholas prayed and dictated a list of compromises. The priest rushed back and laid out the compromises to the delegates before the left and, trusting the advice of such a respected and holy hermit, the delegates agreed. Civil war had been averted.
A personal prayer of Saint Nicholas can be found in the new Catechism, in paragraph 226, Chapter 1 of Part 1, Section 2:
My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you.
My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you.
My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you.
Saint Nicholas died on march 21, 1487, with his wife and children standing next to his deathbed.
Saint Nicholas of Flue was beatified in 1669 and formally canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1947. In the Roman Catholic Church out side of Switzerland and Germany, his feast day is celebrated on March 21st, while inside the two countries it is celebrated on September 25th. He is the patron saint of Switzerland and the Pontifical Swiss Guards.