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St. Nicholas of Tolentino

Feast Day: September 10

St. Nicholas of Tolentino was an Augustinian who was known for his preaching, the administering of the Sacraments in the homes of the poor, in prisons and in hospitals, for the long hours he spent in the confessional and for the countless miracles for which he would caution: “Say nothing of this. Give thanks to God, not to me.”

Born in answer to the prayer of a holy mother, and vowed before his birth to the service of God, St. Nicholas never lost his baptismal innocence. His austerities were conspicuous even in the austere Order — the Hermits of St. Augustine — to which he belonged. And to the remonstrances which were made by his superiors he only replied, “How can I be said to fast, while every morning at the altar I receive my God?”

He conceived an ardent charity for the Holy Souls, so near and yet so far from their Savior; and often after his Mass it was revealed to him that the souls for whom he had offered the Holy Sacrifice had been admitted to the presence of God. Amidst his loving labors for God and man, he was haunted by fear of his own sinfulness. “The Heavens,” said he, “are not pure in the sign of Him Whom I serve; how then shall I, a sinful man, stand before Him?”

As St. Nicholas pondered on these things, Mary, the Queen of all Saints, appeared before him. “Fear not, Nicholas,” She said, “all is well with you: My Son bears you in His Heart, and I am your protection.” Then his soul was at rest; and he heard, we are told, the songs which the angels sing in the presence of their Lord. Following a painful illness, he died on September 10, 1310.

Forty years after his death, his incorrupt body was disinterred and exposed to the faithful in the wooden casket in which it was first consigned.

One night, during this exhibition, when the doors of the church were locked, the arms were secretly detached from the body. It is not certain, but the suspect is believed to have been a German monk, Teodora, who probably intended to take the arms to his native country. This amputation began the strange, almost 400-year history of the bleeding arms — discharges that were verified and recorded, according to the present representatives of the shrine.

As soon as the arms were detached, a great flow of blood signaled the sacrilegious act. Later, the incorrupt body and the two arms were again consigned to the tomb, but 100 years later, during another exhumation, the body of the Saint was found to have conformed to the natural laws of dissolution, while the arms remained perfectly incorrupt and imbued with blood. Once more the remains were placed beneath the pavement of the Cappelone, a small chapel adjoining the church where the body had previously been interred. This time the arms were not buried, but were placed in beautifully crafted silver cases.

Fresh blood spilled in profusion toward the end of the Fifteenth Century, an occurrence that was repeated twenty times at various intervals. The most astounding seepage took place in 1699. The flow of blood began on May 29 and continued until September 1.

The discharges of 1671 and 1676 were also noteworthy. According to the custodians of the shrine, their Augustinian monastery and the archives of the Bishop of Camarino possess many authoritative documents concerning these effusions.

The Basilica of St. Nicholas in Tolentino was built in the Fourteenth Century and contains the Chapel of the Holy Arms, where relics of the blood are kept in ornate vessels. Here, behind a crystal panel in a gem-encrusted Seventeenth Century urn, can be seen the cloth that was used to staunch the blood at the amputation. The crypt, built between 1926 and 1932, contains the remains of St. Nicholas. His bones are arranged in a simulated figure that is clothed in the Augustinian habit. The mummified arms, still in their silver casings, are arranged in their normal positions beside the figure. Pope Pius XI personally blessed the reliquary in which the remains are enshrined.

This article was composed from two books: Mysteries, Marvels, Miracles In the Lives of the Saints by Joan Carroll Cruz, and Lives of the Saints For Every Day in the Year by Fr. Alban Butler.

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