The Miraculous bread of Saint 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, Saint 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 “Saint 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.”
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 Saint Nicholas on the Feast of Pentecost, June 5, 1446. The Pope had a special devotion to Saint 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 Saint 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.
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Champion of the Poor Souls in Purgatory
where Saint Nicholas had
His whole life was dedicated to pray for the Souls in Purgatory. The Basilica has continued on with that tradition.
Every day Mass is celebrated for the Souls in Purgatory. He had a vision of a friend who was suffering terribly in Purgatory.
He asked for Masses to be celebrated to help him get out of Purgatory. He showed Saint Nicholas Purgatory and how the souls were suffering.
Saint Nicholas celebrated Mass and saw the friend rising up into Heaven.
See a Votive Room with testamonies of thousands of miracles, attributed to the intercession of Saint Nicholas.
Hear the story of the Miraculous Bread of Saint Nicholas.
See the tribute to the miracles on behalf of the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
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Visions of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino
Champion of the Souls in Purgatory
Nicholas 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. Saint 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 Saint 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.” 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 Saint 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 Saint 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.
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