Feast Day : September 10
Nicholas of Tolentino was born in Sant’ Angelo near Fermo, Italy, around 1246 to pious parents of small means. He entered the Augustinian order in his hometown, where he distinguished himself for his devotion and piety. He was ordained in 1271 at Cinguli and spent four years in various houses of the order. He then was assigned to the monastery at Tolentino, where he spent the rest of his life. Nicholas preached, spent many hours in the confessional and aided the poor and sick. He quickly gained a reputation as a miracle-worker, for which he gave all credit to God. His followers believed him to have great intercessory powers for the souls in purgatory; after his death he was proclaimed “Patron of the Holy Souls.” Once while suffering a prolonged illness, Nicholas was urged by his superiors to eat more food. One night the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him in a vision and told him to take a small piece of bread, dip it in water and eat it. She promised that he would then be cured by his obedience. Nicholas did as instructed and was cured immediately. He then began the practice of blessing pieces of bread and giving them to the sick. Many miracle cures were reported. This evolved into the custom of “St. Nicholas Breads” after his death, in which blessed pieces of bread were given out at his shrine. In 1305 Nicholas became ill and never recovered. He died on September 10, 1306, and was buried beneath the Cappellone, a chapel next to the church. Forty years later, his body was found to be incorrupt in its wooden urn and was exposed to the faithful in an exhibition. Someone—believed to be a German monk, Teodoro—attempted to sever the saint’s arms and take them away. When the arms were detached, they bled profusely, and the monk was arrested. One hundred years later, the detached arms were found to be incorrupt, but the rest of the body had decomposed. The arms were placed in silver cases and the rest of the remains were reburied. The arms were seen to bleed 20 times throughout the years; the most significant episode occurred in 1699 when the arms bled continuously from May 29 to September 1. Nicholas’s bones mysteriously disappeared in the mid-15th century and were not found until 1926, when they were discovered buried deep beneath the Cappellone. The Chapel of the Holy Arms, built in the 16th century, contains relics of Nicholas’s blood, including a silver chalice holding a quantity of blood, and a silver urn holding blood-stained linen said to be the cloth used at the amputation of the arms. Nicholas’s remains were placed in a crypt built between 1926 and 1932. An artificial figure wearing an Augustinian habit bears his silvered skull and incorrupt arms, still in their silver casings. The reliquary was personally blessed by Pope Pius XI (r. 1922–39). In 1969 Nicholas’s cult was confined to local calendars.