Visions of St. Nicholas of Tolentino
Champion of the Souls in Purgatory
Nicholas was the pride of the Augustinian Community which flourished in the northeastern section of Italy known as the Marches. He was born in the year 1245, not too far from Tolentino where he spent most of his life as a religious. His elderly parents had not been able to bear a child. Late in life, they made a pilgrimage to Bari, petitioning Saint Nicholas of Bari to intercede with the Lord that they might bring a child into the world, never suspecting the impact that child would have on the history of the Church. St. Nicholas was born and his parents named him after Saint Nicholas of Bari in thanksgiving. He was the gift of their golden years. They offered him back to the Lord, as his mother committed him to God at his baptism. Parents, having a problem conceiving, often turn to St. Nicholas of Tolentino, Patron Saint of difficult births because of his miraculous birth.
From an early age, Nicholas longed for the religious life. The lives of the Saints, his mother had read to him filled him with the desire to be holy. The stories about Our Lord Jesus and Mother Mary brought him each day closer and closer to being her son and sharing in her Son's Way of the Cross.
There were those in the clergy who wanted to take him under their wing so that he could be a professional priest in the secular clergy, but that was not what Nicholas felt burning deep in his heart. Instead, he searched for wherever the Lord wanted him to serve. Not only had the life of Saint Augustine been one that his mother had read to him, but he was to hear about the Saint in school. When the Lord wants you to do something, He makes it perfectly clear. Just in case the young Nicholas had not understood the call to be an Augustinian, the Lord brought him to an Augustinian church, to hear an Augustinian preach; and in case he had not heard his commandment to follow Him in the religious life, what should the priest preach on in his homily but the following Gospel passage, "Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world....the world is passing away." We never know when we are planting seeds, what will flower and bloom. Did he become an Augustinian because of his mother's instructions on her knee? I would say "Yes!" Did he become an Augustinian because of the lessons learned in school? Again we must say "Yes!" But it is believed that it was the preacher who filled Nicholas with the great desire which would catapult him into serving the Lord and only the Lord for the rest of his life.
He entered the Augustinian community while still a child, and before he was eighteen, he joined the community as a brother. His first task was as doorkeeper at the monastery. He loved this job. He was able to meet the poor, and instruct them gently in the ways of the Lord. He would also give them food, sometimes too much food for the liking of his superior, but that was who Nicholas was. He willingly gave up all that he had, but the problem was that he also gave up all the community had.
It was during this time, his early days in the Augustinian community, while being doorkeeper, that we hear of Nicholas' first miracle. A child came to the door with his parents. It was obvious he suffered a serious physical malady. Nicholas put his hand on the child's head and said, "The good God will heal you." The afflicted child was immediately healed.
He traveled up and down the provinces of Italy near to his home town. He spent time in Cingoli, where he was ordained a priest at age 25. He healed a blind woman in that village, and became well-loved by the people there. But he had to move on. The Lord had a plan for Nicholas, and that was to eventually bring his ministry to Tolentino. There, he would spend the rest of his days, evangelizing to everyone and anyone he could.
On all the paintings and statues of St. Nicholas, you see a star on his chest. There is a tradition that when meditating on where he should go, he saw an unusually bright star in the sky and followed that star to Tolentino. This reminds us of the Magi who followed the star to Bethlehem that led them to the Baby Jesus, born to redeem the world. Why had the star led Nicholas to Tolentino? The situation was not good in Tolentino when he arrived. People were not attending Mass. The churches were empty. His superiors held the belief the only way was to go door-to-door evangelizing. If the people would not come to God, His disciples would go to them; and so they sent Brother Nicholas (among others) to the people. Now, he had not done this before, but he obeyed and set out among the villagers. What he found was that the faithful were actually starving for the Word of God; he was immediately accepted by the people. During his teachings on the Gospel, he simply glorified God. He could hear people crying as they listened to him. He spoke with, as St. Augustine taught, "the heart and mind" of the Church and conversions took place en masse. Even those who hated him, could not resist the love with which he preached; they too, soon came around.
There is an instance which is attributed to the Saint, where there was one angry man, a heretic, who not only did not believe, but became violent when Nicholas preached in the town squares. He did everything in his power to disrupt Nicholas, or distract the people so that they could not pay attention to Nicholas. But our little saint just kept plugging, exchanging anger and violence with love. This infuriated the man all the more.
One day, when Nicholas was preaching to the people, in the town square, sharing how much God loved them, the angry man decided to disrupt the proceedings by fencing with his friends. The sound of steel blades slicing against steel blades, the swords threatened to drown out Nicholas, but that didn't stop him. He kept sharing about the God Who unconditionally loves us, even as we are rejecting Him. The angry man, who could not help hearing everything Nicholas was saying, finally stopped fencing, leaned on his sword and listened to the rest of Nicholas' talk. Needless to say, he was converted and became one of Nicholas' greatest supporters.
St. Nicholas' devotion to the Poor Souls
This article is based on our Book Visions of Heaven Hell and Purgatory
There are many gifts for which St. Nicholas of Tolentino is best known. One is his great devotion to the Poor Souls in Purgatory. When his superiors encouraged him to enter the seminary in preparation for the priesthood, he hesitated. He wanted nothing to take away from his prayer time for the Poor Souls. It wasn't until he was convinced that the greatest prayer he could pray for those suffering in Purgatory was the Sacrifice of the Mass, and that he could do best as a priest of God, that he finally consented to enter the seminary. He was ordained a priest in the order of St. Augustine.
He remained a man of prayer, praying day and night for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, sometimes as much as six to eight hours a night. But his devotion to those in Purgatory had to take a back seat to his vow of obedience.
One evening, while he was in prayer, a friar who had recently passed away, Pellegrino of Osimo, appeared to Nicholas. It was all too obvious from the expression on his face that Pellegrino was in agony. He mournfully shared with Nicholas that he was in the pits of Purgatory, suffering the most excruciating pain. He knew of Nicholas' devotion to the Poor Souls in Purgatory, and so he pleaded with his old friend to offer Mass, not only for himself, but for the many other souls who had asked him to implore the aid of Nicholas. Nicholas immediately consented. Then he remembered that he was under obedience to offer the conventual Mass of the Order for the next week.
Pellegrino brought Nicholas into the pits of Purgatory, so that he could see first-hand, the suffering of all those who had asked for his intercession. Before him were a multitude of souls of all ages and conditions, experiencing terrible torment. Pellegrino turned to Nicholas and said,
"Behold the state of those who sent me to you. Since you are agreeable in the sight of God, we have confidence that He will refuse nothing to the oblation of the Sacrifice offered by you, and that His Divine Mercy will deliver us."
Nicholas could not hold back the tears. He went into prayer, after which he went to his superior and asked permission to pray the Mass for the Dead. When he shared his vision, and the agonizing condition of the souls who had asked for his help, the superior, too, broke down into tears. He gave Nicholas a special dispensation from praying the conventual Mass for that next week, and granted him permission to dedicate his Masses as well as all his prayers, toward the deliverance of the Poor Souls from Purgatory. Nicholas celebrated those Masses passionately as (and with) the Victim Priest before him, the One Who came that no one would have to suffer the pains of eternal damnation.
At the end of a week, Pellegrino of Osimo appeared to Nicholas again, only this time he was not in agonizing pain. He had been released from Purgatory, and was on his way to Heaven. The other souls were in the same way, clad in white garments and enveloped with a bright, heavenly light. They called him their liberator, and as they rose up to Heaven, they chanted the prayer,
"Thou has saved us from them that afflict us, and thou has put them to shame that hate us."
There were many instances of Nicholas' intercession for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. It became one of the greatest goals of his vocation, to help as many souls be released from Purgatory as he possibly could. But there is another thing for which St. Nicholas of Tolentino is famous, and that is the bread of St. Nicholas.
The Miraculous bread of St. Nicholas of Tolentino
The tradition began when Nicholas was quite ill and beginning to show the ravages of old age; he was so sick and so debilitated, he was about to die. His superiors asked him to eat a little meat and some nourishing foods. After all, they pleaded, they needed him, they and the community and his Souls in Purgatory! He wanted to obey his superiors, but he also knew the power of fasting toward moving God's Heart. So he prayed to Our Lady. Now, we know how much she loves her priests, her favorite sons, especially ones like Nicholas of Tolentino. Mother Mary appeared with the Baby Jesus in her arms. She handed Nicholas a small bit of bread; the Infant Jesus was holding a chalice filled with water; Mother Mary enjoined Nicholas to dip the bread into the chalice and then to eat it. Upon obeying the Mother of God, his Mother, he immediately recovered from his illness, and had more strength than he had ever known before.
From that time on, St. Nicholas would bless little pieces of bread, which he would distribute among the people. Healings abounded. Author's note: When we visited Tolentino for the first time in 1977, the nun at the Shrine gave us some "St. Nicholas' bread." There were approximately six little crackers enclosed in cellophane packages. Just having returned to the Church two years before, and not having had much real education in the Faith at the time, Penny asked how much we were to give someone who was suffering, to bring about a cure. The nun made a very wise statement, a teaching which has stayed with us these many years. She said:
"It takes a little bread and a lot of faith."
Eight days before his death, our Lady appeared to St. Nicholas and prophesied that he would die on September the 10th, the third day after the anniversary of Mary's birth. St. Nicholas was on his death bed and suffering. The enemy was attacking him mercilessly, these his last days. His soul was in anguish, as the enemy persisted, taunting him, disrupting his praying to the point he could barely remember the prayers. St. Nicholas turned to his Mother Mary and pleaded with her, saying he had endured the torments of the devil all his life; could he, his last hours on earth be undisturbed so that he could prepare properly for his entrance before the Lord. Our Lady left without giving him an answer. St. Nicholas continued praying. An Angel appeared to him, told him his prayers had been heard, and he would have the peace he desired. St. Nicholas spent his last days in peace, without any attacks from the devil. Not only that but he spent his last days, as if he were already in Paradise, his face illuminated.
As Mother Mary had predicted, St. Nicholas of Tolentino died on September 10, 1305. At his death, his tomb became immediately a shrine of veneration. Twenty years after his death, Pope John XXII ordered the Process for Beatification to be opened. But during the investigation, the popes moved from Italy to Avignon, France, and the process was held up until they came back to Rome.
Three hundred and seventy-three miracles were attributed to his intercession. They were investigated, and over 300 miracles were accepted by Mother Church. Pope Eugene IV canonized St. Nicholas on the Feast of Pentecost, June 5, 1446. The Pope had a special devotion to St. Nicholas. He had prayed to him, for the success of the Council of Florence; it had been called to make smooth the path to unification of all Christians, the Greek church with the Latin. Because many of the Eastern churches returned to the Chair of Peter through that Council, Pope Eugene IV attributed it to the intercession of St. Nicholas.
Forty years after his death, a tomb was erected where the faithful could come to venerate the Saint. One day, a disturbed fanatic, desiring to have part of the Saint to bring back to his country, decided to cut off his arms. When he performed this sacrilegious operation on the Saint's body, the Saint's arms began to bleed profusely, forty years after his death. The rest of the body has decomposed, but from that time on, the miraculous arms have been incorrupt and were venerated in their own special chapel. They are still solemnly processed on the Saint's Feast Day. In 1926, the body was investigated and the Church verified that it was the body of the Saint. At that time, the arms were reunited with the rest of the body, a silver mask was placed over the Saint's face and the remains of the Saint are exposed for veneration, at the base of the Altar of Sacrifice, fitting for a priest who had prayed for so many Souls as he celebrated Mass.
Because of the many Souls that were released from Purgatory through his prayers, and the Masses he celebrated for the Poor Souls, he became and is known as the Saint of Purgatory.
Great pilgrimages began immediately to Tolentino. St. Nicholas was declared Patron Saint of many large cities in the rest of Italy, due to the miraculous deliverance from plagues and pestilences, through the intercession of St. Nicholas. Devotion to him came about in all of Europe, and then in the whole world. In Mexico, there are over 30 villages named after St. Nicholas, as well as a village in the Canary Islands. He is also venerated in South America.
He has among those who have been devoted: many Popes, many Saints and Blesseds who spent much time in Tolentino, praying to our Saint.
Saint of the Suffering on Earth and in Purgatory
St. Nicholas was Saint of the Suffering on earth, feeding them with earthly food and Heavenly Food in the Eucharist. He is known as well as Saint of the Suffering Poor Souls in Purgatory, having prayed for them all his life as a religious, and celebrating Mass for them as a priest. Because of His devotion to the Poor Souls, Pope Leo XIII declared the Basilica of St. Nicholas - Church of the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Mass is celebrated, there, every afternoon, for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
Miracles abound through the intercession of St. Nicholas
One miracle came about in a village in Spain. There was a deadly plague spreading throughout Europe and was now claiming many lives in Spain. In petition and supplication, the faithful were processing through the streets, carrying a Crucifix and a statue of St. Nicholas. They were praying, with faith, for the intercession of our Saint. The priests were following, distributing Holy Bread of St. Nicholas. The procession was passing before the hospital, which was filled with the dying, when at that moment, Christ bent down from the Cross and embraced the statue of St. Nicholas. [This is another indication of the great love and devotion that St. Nicholas had for our Lord Crucified and His Passion.] Miracles began immediately. The plague stopped. People were miraculously healed.
In Genoa, they revere St. Nicholas and pray to him, because he answered the prayers of the Genovese and put down the pestilence that was spreading through that port city.
Another miracle attributed to St. Nicholas took place in Venice. The ducal palace of the Doge was on fire and was burning down, when they saw a vision of St. Nicholas in the sky. He threw a piece of blessed bread into the flames and the fire was extinguished. A beautiful painting was made of this miracle by the Venetians and hangs in the Basilica of St. Nicholas, till today.
One of the miracles accepted for his canonization, was the bringing to life of a young woman who had died, through the intercession of St. Nicholas.
Many miracles happened and continue to happen. One person was cured of her blindness. People were saved from drowning through his intercession. A farmer prayed to St. Nicholas and was saved. He had been tied up by outlaws, who had come to steal his cattle and kill him, when he turned to our Saint. It is not said what happened; only that they fled and left him and the livestock untouched. Why? Why do you think? Anyhow, this was considered another of the many miracles through our Saint's intervention. Another miracle through the intercession of St. Nicholas was when a man was about to be hanged. He was miraculously proven innocent and was freed, at the last moment, through the intercession of St. Nicholas.
The world and the people of God have always been plagued by the deceiver and his band of deceivers. And although there have always been those who accommodate the devil by teaching there is no such spirit, we have always needed the exorcism of fallen angels. Through St. Nicholas' intercession, demons have been known to be exorcised.
We met St. Nicholas of Tolentino, so to speak, through the other Augustinian saints with whom we have become very close. In the same region of Italy, you will find the shrines to St. Rita of Cascia, St. Clare of Montefalco, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino. While their lives are separate, they are distinctly interconnected with each other spiritually. The common denominator, of course, is their founder and father in Faith, St. Augustine, a powerful role model and intercessor.
We have found great warmth and consolation from these Augustinian Saints. We have felt a brotherhood also to the different communities we have met at their shrines. It's like being with family. Learn about these Saints. Meet the community of believers who continue to espouse their charism. You will be home; you will be with family.
And most of all, have Masses said for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. You will then have Great Friends in High Places when they are released and go to live with Jesus in Paradise.
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1 John 2:15
when the priest consecrates the host during the Sacrifice of the Mass
Jesus Christ on the Cross offering Himself to the Father for the Redemption of the world
little round crackers which look like small oysterette crackers that are sometimes put into soup
September the 8th
it is written that he was a foreigner