Nicholas of Flüe, St.
NICHOLAS OF FLÜE, ST.
Farmer, politician, father of ten children and then hermit, whose influence saved Switzerland from disruption in 1481; b. at what is now Flüeli, near Sachseln, Ob-walden, Switzerland, March 21?, 1417; d. in the Ranft, a nearby ravine, March 21, 1487. The first child of a devout and relatively wealthy couple, Klaus (as he was usually called) was a remarkable lad, given to praying unostentatiously, and early influencing his companions. As a youngster he fasted every Friday, and this was increased to four times a week, probably soon after a vision he had at the age of 16. This vision of a tower rising up from the Ranft deeply impressed him and made him long for a solitary life. In the fifteenth century there was already conscription among the Swiss, and Klaus was drafted into the army for the Zurich wars (1440–44) and the Thurgau War (1460). A fellow conscript recorded that Klaus "did but little harm to the enemy, but rather always went to one side, prayed, and protected the defeated enemy as best he could." During the Thurgau campaign he put a stop to the burning of the Dominican convent of St. Katharinental near Diessenhofen, where an Austrian garrison had taken refuge. Probably not long after the Zurich War, Klaus married Dorothea Wyss from Oberwilen. His longing for the life of a hermit had seemingly become quiescent, but it was still latent and caused an inner conflict that became acute about 20 years later. Owing to gaps in the Obwalden archives, most of Klaus's political and judicial activity must remain unknown, but, on his own admission, he had considerable authority as a judge and councilor. He said he did not remember ever having been unjust. Despite his obvious ability, he despised temporal honors and contrived to prevent his election as Landamman. About 1463, family life became a burden to him and, advised by a priest friend, he found temporary relief in devoting much time to meditation upon the Passion. Troubled by irremediable events, which were proving obstacles to his peace of mind, he withdrew from politics about 1465. The longing to become a hermit made itself felt ever more acutely; and, convinced that it was what God wanted of him, Klaus wrested the permission from Dorothea to leave her. Three and a half months after the birth of their fifth son, Nicholas, who was to become a priest and doctor in theology, Klaus left home, on Oct. 16, 1467. Fearing local opposition, he set off to cross the frontier, but near Liestal a seemingly supernatural intervention made him retrace his steps. His first attempt at heremetical life was made on the forsaken Klisterli Alp in the Melchtal. This came to nought, thanks to the curious, scoffing visitors who came to see him. Klaus repaired to the Ranft, to the site of the tower of his youthful vision, quite near his home. For the remaining 19½ years of his life, he abstained completely from food. Neighbors helped him build a log cabin; a year later, however, it was the local authorities, who, after having set guards to watch him and convince themselves that he and his fast were genuine, constructed a hermitage and an adjoining chapel. In 1469, Thomas Weldner, auxiliary bishop of Constance, came to test Klaus and to consecrate the chapel. Churchmen and politicians came to ask his advice, and people in great numbers consulted him in their troubles. Even his wife, with whom he had clearly a deep understanding, was among the visitors to the hermitage. Friendly, affectionate, and thoughtful, he had a remarkable gift for encouraging the sad and depressed. To all he was known as "Bruder Klaus." Owing to his efforts, the quarrelling cantons came together at the Diet of Stans in December of 1481; and when, during the assembly, they were on the point of returning home to settle matters by arms, his advice to the delegates, transmitted by Heinrich am Grund, the parish priest, restored peace. Nicholas was buried at Sachseln, where his body still lies. He was canonized in 1947 and is venerated by Catholics and Protestants alike. His importance as a figure of peace and brotherhood can hardly be exaggerated. Owing to his unique visions and prodigious memory, he has attracted the attention of psychologists as well.
Feast: March 21; Sept. 25 (Switzerland).
Bibliography: r. durrer, Bruder Klaus, 2 v. (Sarnen, Switz. 1917–21). k. vokinger, Bruder Klaus: Sein Leben (Stans, Switz.1947). f. blanke, Bruder Klaus von Flüe: Seine innere Geschichte (Zurich 1948). m. l. von franz, Die Visionen des Niklaus von Flüe (Zurich 1959). g. r. lamb, Brother Nicholas (New York 1955). i. lÜthold-minder, Bruder Klaus ich danke dir (Sarnen 1975); Bruder Klaus: Wunder und Verehrung (Solothurn 1977). c. hÜrlimann, h. krÖmler, and l. elser, Bruder Klaus von Flüe (Zurich 1983), meditations. m. bolliger, Ein Stern am Himmel: Niklaus von Flüe (Hitzkirch 1987). w. stokar, Niklaus von Flüe (Schaffhausen 1993). Dorothea, die Ehefrau des hl. Niklaus von Flüe, ed. w. t. huber (Freiburg, Switz. 1994). m. zÜfle, Ranft: Erzählung und Erzählung der Erzählungen (Zurich 1998).