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Nicholas of Flüe

Saint Nicholas of Flüe
Nicholas of Flüe, from the altar piece of the local parish church in Sachseln.
Brother Klaus
Born 1417
Unterwalden, Switzerland
Died 21 March 1487
Sachseln, Switzerland
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Beatified 1669
Canonized 1947 by Pope Pius XII
Major shrine Sachseln, Switzerland
Feast 21 March (25 September in Switzerland & Germany)
Patronage Switzerland, Pontifical Swiss Guards

Saint Nicholas of Flüe (German: Niklaus von Flüe) (1417 – 21 March 1487[1]) 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, Brother Klaus's counsel to the Diet of Stans (1481) helped to prevent war between the Swiss cantons.


  • Earlier life 1
  • Political mystic 2
  • Prayer citation 3
  • Veneration 4
  • Visionary images 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Earlier life

He was born in 1417, in the canton of Unterwalden, the oldest son of wealthy peasants. At the age of 21 he entered the army and took part in the battle of Ragaz in 1446,[1] and distinguished himself as a soldier in action against the canton of Zurich, which had rebelled against the confederation. He later 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.[1] At around the age of 30, he married Dorothy Wiss, a farmer's daughter. They farmed in the municipality of Flüeli in the alpine foothills, above Sachseln on the Lake Sarnen. He also continued in the military to the age of 37, rising to the position of captain, reportedly fighting with a sword in one hand and a rosary in the other. After serving in the military, he became a councillor and judge for his canton in 1459 and served as a judge for nine years. He declined the opportunity to serve as Landamman (governor) of his canton.

Political mystic

After receiving a mystical vision of a lily eaten by a horse,[2] which he recognized as indicating that the cares of his worldly life (the draft horse pulling a plough) was 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 and set himself up as a hermit[1] in the Ranft chine in Switzerland, establishing a chantry for a priest from his own funds so that he could assist at mass daily. According to legend, he survived for nineteen years with no food except for the eucharist. Symbolic visions continued to be a feature of his contemplation, and he became a spiritual guide whose advice was widely sought and followed. [3] His reputation for wisdom and piety was such that figures from across Europe came to seek advice from him, and he was known to all as "Brother Klaus." In 1470, Pope Paul II granted the first indulgence to the sanctuary at Ranft and it became a place of pilgrimage, since it lay on the Jakobsweg (English: Way of St. James),[4] the road pilgrims travelled on 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.[3] 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. 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.

Prayer citation

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church cites a brief personal prayer of St. Nicholas of Flue in paragraph #226[5] of Chapter 1 of Part 1, Section 2 "The Profession of the Christian Faith" under subheading IV "The implications of faith in one God" an aspect of which is making good use of created things.

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.


He was beatified in 1669. After his beatification, the municipality of Sachseln built a church in his honour where his body was interred. He was canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII. His feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is 21 March, except in Switzerland and Germany where it is 25 September.

As a layman with family responsibilities who took his civic duties as an ancestral landowner seriously, Brother Klaus is a model of heroic manhood for many concerned with the flourishing of local communities and sustainable use of open land. He is the patron saint of the German-language association KLB (Katholischen Landvolkbewegung), the Catholic Rural Communities Movement.[6]

A plate from the Amtliche Luzerner Chronik of 1513 of Diebold Schilling the Younger, illustrating the events of the Tagsatzung at Stans in 1481. Top: A priest named Heini am Grund visits Niklaus von Flüe to ask him for his advice to save the failing Tagsatzung at Stans, where the delegates of the rural and urban cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy could not agree and threatened civil war. Bottom: Am Grund returned to the Tagsatzung and related Niklaus' advice, whereupon the delegates compromised. Am Grund is shown holding back a bailiff who wants to go and spread the good news already: Niklaus' advice remains secret to this day.

Visionary images

Of the many spiritual insights Nicholas received in his visions, one in particular is reproduced often in a reduced logographic format, as a mystical wheel.[7] Nicholas described his vision of the Holy Face at the center of a circle with the tips of three swords touching the two eyes and mouth, while three others radiate outwards in a sixfold symmetry reminiscent of the Seal of Solomon. A cloth painted with the image, known as the meditation prayer cloth[8] associates the symbol with six episodes from the life of Christ: the mouth of God at the Annunciation, the eyes spying Creation both in its prelapsarian innocence and redemption from the Fall at Calvary, while in the inward direction the betrayal by his disciple Judas in the Garden of Gethsamene points to the crown of the Pantocrator sitting in the judgment seat, the glad tidings of the Nativity scene's "Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to his people on Earth" echoes in ear on the right of the head, while the memorial of the Lord's Supper "This is my body, which will be given for you" at the prayers of consecration in the Divine Liturgy of the Mass echoes to the ear on the left of the head.

These six medallions contain additional symbols of acts of Christian kindness:

  1. two crutches suggest Visiting the sick as a work of mercy
  2. hiker's walking stick with travel pouch suggests Hospitality to strangers
  3. a loaf of bread, fish and a pitcher of water and wine represent Feed the hungry, quench the thirsty
  4. chains indicate Care for the incarcerated
  5. Christs garments evoke Clothe the naked
  6. a coffin reminds us to Bury the dead

This visual interpretation encapsulates the personal piety of rural peasants, many illiterate, for whom salvation history was expressed in these crucial aspects of God's loving relationship with us and the Christian duty to love of neighbor. Sanctifying grace flows from the Pascal Victim on the Cross, an image Nicholas described in his vision by the stream,[9] where the Tabernacle sits atop a spring that flows forth covering the earth, echoing the rivers flowing from the Temple in Ezekiel's visions. Such profound insights on the allegorical,[10] anagogical and tropological senses of scripture are often lost in modern biblical exegesis that focuses too narrowly on the literal sense, the historical-critical method.

See also

  • Bruder Klaus WorldHeritage page (German)
  • Play Nicolas de Flue written after World War II by Denis de Rougemont (French)


  1. ^ a b c d "Blessed Nicholas of Flüe".  
  2. ^ "Die weisse Lilie und das Pferd" (in German). Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  3. ^ a b , edited by John Coulson, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1960The Saints: A concise Biographical Dictionary
  4. ^ Way of St. James - Being on the way
  5. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church - I believe in God
  6. ^ Wir über uns
  7. ^
  8. ^ (German)
  9. ^
  10. ^ RTF Study Program - Lesson 2: The Four Senses of Sacred Scripture

Further reading

  • Abel, Winfried, “The Prayer Book of St. Nicholas of Flue: Mystery of the Center”, Christiana Edition, Stein Am Rhein, 1999.
  • Boos, Thomas, “Nicholas of Flue, 141-1487, Swiss Hermit and Peacemaker”, The Pentland Press, Ltd, Edinburgh, 1999.
  • Collins, David J. "Turning Swiss: The Patriotism of the Holy Hermit Nicholas". In Reforming Saints. Oxford:  
  • Kaiser, Lother Emanuel, “Nicholas of Flue-Brother Nicholas: Saint of Peace Throughout the World.” Editions du Signe, Strausbourg, 2002.
  • Yates, Christina, “Brother Klaus: A Man of Two Worlds” The Ebor Press, York, England, 1989.
  • “Brother Klaus: Our Companion Through Life”, Bruder-Kalusen-Stiftung-Sachseln, 2005.
  • "The Transformed Berserker: The Union of Psychic Opposites" The Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche. von Franz, Marie-Louise. Shambhala, 1997.

External links

  • Tradition in Action, a Roman Catholic hagiography with commentary
  • Bruder Klaus page at Sachseln Flüeli-Ranft Tourism Bureau (German)
  • Catholic Encyclopedia article
  • Extensive bibliography and link collection
  • Photo of his hermitage chapel at KLB Catholic Rural Peoples Movement (German)
  • The "Book" which he read, a discussion of the painted prayer meditation cloth (German)
  • The Lily and Horse from his vision (German)
  • Collection of sentences of spiritual direction (webpage maintained by the Benedictine Abbey "Abbaye Saint Benoît de Port-Valais," at Le Bouveret in Switzerland) (French)
  • Homily of Pope John Paul II at the Mass for Peace, Flüeli (1984) (French)
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