Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Life of San Nicolo Politi

by Orazio Antonino Faraci


The life of St. Nicoli Politi whose feast is celebrated on August 17th.

Publisher & Date

San Nicolo Politi Comitato di Alcara li Fusi, July 2006


The life of San Nicolò Politi has been handed down over the centuries by the living and uninterrupted memory of generations of devoted Alcaresi and Adraniti. In Alcara li Fusi, for example, there is still no adult or even child who does not know at least the salient facts of the life of our beloved saint. Alongside the oral tradition, however, a very rich hagiographic production, both in prose and in verse, has flourished on the splendid human and Christian figure of Saint Nicholas.

The first written work that speaks to us of our saint is certainly the hymn, reported by Caietani, [1] attributed to the spiritual father of Nicolò Politi, that Cusmano Father, called the Theologian, who, as he himself attests in the hymn, knew "His great zeal of penance". It, in fact a prayer, is steeped in biographical references relating to the heroic gestures of penance and sacrifice made by Nicolò out of love for God. Caietani also reports the first known biography of San Nicolò, published in 1657, on the basis of a text delivered to him. by the Alcaresi, tracing it back to a contemporary source of the saint himself, which he defines as "Anonymous Contemporary Monk" and ends up identifying with the same father Cusmano [2].

The first life in verse of San Nicolò, which has come down to us, written in Sicilian by an Alcarese poet, Placido Merlino [3] , dates back to 1652, five years earlier than Caietani's text.

The life

Nicolò Politi was born in the city of Adernò, today Adrano, a large town in the province of Catania, under the reign of Roger II, presumably in 1117 [4] , from an illustrious family, that of the Politi. Tradition also tells us the name of the parents, Almidoro and Alpina. It is said that the two, having already advanced in age and not being able to have a child, by vote, went on pilgrimage to Alcara, a small town in the Messina area, located on the northern side of the Nebrodi mountains, where a great party was held in honor of San Nicolò di Mira, whose church, recently restored, is still visible today near the neighborhood located close to Calvary. The couple promised the Holy Bishop that they would call their son by his name. So it happened, the baby who came to light some time later, was called Nicolò. Let's imagine what the care with which the two parents took care of the education of their son, their only heir, must have been, destined to continue the glories of the family. This, moreover, is testified by the fact that in the hands of Nicolò, after the discovery of his body, a prayer book was found, written in Greek, which the hermit used for his daily prayers. Nicolò, however, did not limit himself to growing only in the values attributable to the good name of the family, but also made a journey of growth in the spiritual life, evidently guided by excellent guides who introduced him to deep love for Christ, to the point that, on the threshold of his youth, he matured a radical and profound choice on which to bet his existence, the choice of total embrace with Christ, to be lived in a privileged and uninterrupted relationship, that of the continuous contemplation of His mystery of love towards man and creation: Nicolò decided to be a hermit, detaching himself from the world and its flattery. And what flattery that lay ahead for the young Adranita must have been: wealth, social prestige, respect, esteem of all! Lastly, there was also the prospect of a marriage with a young woman who was his equal, a step that the father considered natural and taken for granted due to the expectations he placed on his son. But everything was destined to break in the face of a greater love "that great waters cannot extinguish nor rivers overwhelm" And what flattery those that lay ahead for the young Adranita must have been: wealth, social prestige, respect, esteem of all! Lastly, there was also the prospect of a marriage with a young woman equal to him, a step that the father considered natural and taken for granted due to the expectations he placed on his son. But everything was destined to break in the face of a greater love "that great waters cannot extinguish nor rivers overwhelm" [5] , the love of God.

The clash with the parents, in particular with the father, must have been very hard, too incomprehensible the choice must have appeared to the old Almidoro, especially in consideration of the hopes cultivated by a lifetime. The breakup, therefore, was inevitable, as it was painful, for the poor boy who deeply loved his dear parents but had developed the awareness that not even that love should preclude him from immersing himself in the love of God. Nicolò then decided to make the break without delay and flee, secretly leaving his father's house at night. Comments on this episode are naturally abundant and both writings and works of art have flourished. We include a text that tries to reconstruct what Nicolò's feelings must have been in abandoning his loved ones. This is the reconstruction of the text of the farewell letter that the young man left to his heartbroken parents:

“Dear father and sir, dry your tears, please, as I am sending myself to a better wedding. I cannot confirm nuptials with earthly beings, because my soul is already married to the King of Heaven. So, if I change you for God, I don't deserve the name of disobedient and ungrateful son. I flee the world so as not to give into his nets. Without escape I could not be free from his filth. Farewell, dear father, dear parent, farewell. Have firm hope of seeing us again for the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, in the other life in Heaven.

Your son Nicolò." [6]

His first destination was one of the many cavities present among the lava flows that overlooked his hometown. This cave was subsequently identified with the one located in Aspicuddu, which became one of the places of worship of the saint in that territory. Great must have been Nicolò's bewilderment when he suddenly found himself catapulted from the comforts of his rich abode into a dark, impervious place, devoid of everything, but just as great was his determination to follow his life plan. In this place he overcame the doubts of the first possible second thoughts, he experienced, through prayer, the sweetness of God as Father, overcoming the great nostalgia that in an adolescent was natural to emerge towards his dear parents. He learned to get food, to endure hunger and hardship, to suffer from all the privations that this state of life imposed on him. Thus three years passed, but God's plans for his faithful servant had to push Nicholas even further.

The father had not resigned himself to the disappearance of his son and had always sought him with insistence and obstinacy. Finally he was told that a young man with the features and age of Nicolò had been glimpsed near the Aspicuddu and Almidoro was preparing to have the area searched. Nicolò, realizing what was happening, had no doubts, he left everything and, armed only with his crusader staff, he set off again. He arrived at the village of Maniace and here he found hospitality in the Basilian monastery of the place [7], presumably the one dedicated to the holy Mother of God, making an encounter that would have marked him for his whole life, the one with his Basilian father Lorenzo da Frazzanò. It is easy to imagine the relief that Nicolò felt thanks to the welcome given to him by those friars, especially on a spiritual level, after so many hard trials faced in extreme solitude. Here he was able to approach the sacraments and found in the young father Lorenzo a valid guide for his journey. The two, in fact, left for the northern part of the Nebrodi mountains, traveling together for most of the journey until, arriving near Pizzo di Moèle, it was time to split up: Lorenzo would have returned to the abbey of Fragalà, Nicola, on the advice of his friend Lorenzo, would have descended along the rocky valley of the Ghida river, where he could have found a safe refuge and, above all, would have had the opportunity to attend the monastery of Santa Maria del Rogato, located on the left side of the valley, a monastery where his father lived Cusman of Alcara, a monk who for his culture and spiritual depth was nicknamed "The Theologian". The two friends embraced, not without the hope of being able to see each other again. Nicolò, already tried for three years of hardship, was exhausted from the long journey. The biographical information attributed to the contemporary monk of the saint, at this point, affirms that when he arrived in a rocky and arid land, exhausted from thirst, he invoked God's help and "warned to strike a stone with his stick, [8] . Even today this spring, incorporated in a chapel, is a destination for community pilgrimages. Nicolò, comforted by the loving presence of God, found a solitary cave not far away, decided to place his hermitage there: for thirty long years that would be his home and, for all the centuries to come, it would become the most loved destination.

Here, thanks to the distance from home, Nicolò was no longer afraid of leaving his total solitude and began to frequent the monastery of Santa Maria del Rogato every week, a few kilometers from his hermitage. The spiritual partnership he lived with the Cusman theologian was intense, as the hymn of praise that the latter composed to praise the heroic virtues of Nicolò, calling him "shepherd", "resplendent sun", "splendor that never sets" [9] .

Nicolò arrived in the cave of Mount Calanna at the age of twenty, in 1137, remaining there until his death, which took place thirty years later: this cave was therefore the place where the hermit spent the most productive part of his life, where the whole life was consumed, his youth and maturity. What to say about the way he spent his days? How can you imagine so many years of solitude? We can only try to reconstruct some of what were the essential components of this very singular existence of his. He chose to lead that life out of love for Christ Jesus and, therefore, we cannot imagine a single day of this life without Nicolò entering into a relationship with Hm, through prayer, meditation on the Word of God, the fulfillment of his daily work. to survive. We know a lot about his way of praying, having received a significant part of the prayer book that he used, containing prayers attributable to the Greek office of the Basilian monks, with whom the link must have been organic, so much so that it can reasonably be said that Nicolò must have been a Basilian "with a small habit", a sort of anomalous monk who, although tied to the Basilian rule, did not lead a community life.

The Cusmano hymn brings us back a prayer that Nicolò constantly raised to the Divine Trinity:

"O Father, O Son, O Holy Spirit, listen to my prayer, because I who find myself in this solitude have placed all my hopes only in You: please, when I leave this life, welcome my soul".

Very intense was also the bond with the Madonna that Nicolò invoked with the highest and sweetest titles, calling her "Most Pure Virgin", "Mother of the Almighty", "Virgin Mother of God", "Immaculate". [10] Nicolò, therefore, was not alone, because with prayer he was constantly in communion with his God, with the Madonna, with the Saints. Another component of his prayer, which can be deduced from the hymn of Cusman, is that of intercession: Nicolò was indeed isolated from the world, but he did not forget us men, since he prayed "with zeal to God so that he would bestow his Grace".

The years passed and Nicolò felt its weight more and more. In the summer of 1162, the tradition, collected by many biographers, places a special moment of this extraordinary life: Nicolò and Lorenzo da Frazzanò, after a quarter of a century, meet again at the Rogato and, as proof of the immense joy and of the deep friendship that the holy hermit feels towards Lorenzo, invites him to spend a day in his hermitage which until then had remained secret from everyone. The pious Basilian father feels the approach of his death which, for a saint, is not a moment of sadness, but of immense joy, because it represents the certain moment of the encounter with God so loved and sought during his earthly life: he communicates to his friend Nicolò, certainly arousing in him a great sadness, immediately compensated, however, by the same joy that Lorenzo allowed to shine through in communicating the news to him. After a day in the prayer of praise to God, the two leave, not without the strong hope of meeting again in the kingdom of heaven.

The last glimpse of the earthly existence of our holy hermit opens up. Nicolò, despite approaching fifty years of age, continued to follow the usual rhythms of his life as a penitent, suffering the hardships of the hermitage and continuing to go to the Rogato for the weekly confession and to participate in the Eucharistic celebration. The dialogue with the Cusman, who is also now an elderly man, becomes more and more confident and more and more reaching out towards the passage to eternal life in which the faithful servant of God hopes to reap the hoped-for reward. And finally, the long-awaited hour arrives. We have reached August 1167, Nicolò is increasingly exhausted, however, on the occasion of the solemnity of the feast of the Assumption, on August 15, he does not refrain from going, with his last remaining strength, to the Rogato monastery. Even Cusmano, seeing him in those conditions, understands that his friend has now reached the goal for which he had spent his whole life. This last meeting between the two who by now shared even the most hidden folds of their own spirit, becomes almost an anticipation of the bliss of Paradise: even between them the detachment on the one hand is full of nostalgia for the very intense spiritual communion experienced during the span of thirty years, in which one benefited from the ascetic conquests of the other, on the other hand, in the certainty of faith, it is cheered by a celestial happiness. Cusmano would like to accompany him, to be close to him in the supreme hour, but Nicolò reaffirms the choice of total solitude until the end. The return journey is painful; when the exhausted hermit arrives near the Angari district, he collapses to the ground, without strength, along a path beaten by country people. And here two women arrive, with their baskets full of fruit: Nicolò asks them to give him some to revive him: at her request, one woman denies indignantly, while the other, moved by compassion, offers him all her basket. The tradition, also taken from the aforementioned source by Caietani, which defines the two women as "witnesses of the death and life of Blessed Nicola", says that the generous woman had fruits abounding for many days, while, for the ungrateful woman, the fruits rotted up to to become inedible. At the meeting place, "Now, O Lord, let your servant go in peace according to your word" [11] : this must have been the recurring theme in the prayer of a man who had lived an existence like that of Nicholas, and peace, true peace, that of heaven, already anticipated in the cave of the hermitage, finally embraced his spirit and Nicolò went to meet his beloved Lord. It was August 17, 1167, and the bronze bells of the Church of Alcara, "nulla vi humana pulsae" [12] , they played, without anyone noticing what had happened.

After a few days, a shepherd, a certain Leone Rancuglia, pushed to the place of Nicolò's cave by the search for a lost ox, found the body of the hermit, still on his knees, with his hands attached to the cruciate staff and with eyes, still open, turned to the sky. Great must have been his impression of him, transformed into fear when, touching his body, his arm was paralyzed: he understood then that it must be the body of a holy man and ran into town to give the news to the archpriest. Everything was clear then, a sort of procession was organized to the place of the discovery, near which, still in a miraculous way, Leo's arm was healed.

Nicolò's body immediately became an object of veneration, it was loaded on a coffin and transported to the town. At this point the tradition poses a new prodigy. In fact, when the procession arrived near the Church of Sant'Ippolito, the coffin became very heavy and had to be placed on the ground, as every attempt to continue was in vain, until a child shouted to carry the body to the Rogato: the bearers raised the coffin became light again, and they did as the boy told them. At the Rogato the body of the hermit was recognized by the monks and, in particular, by his confessor, his father Cusmano who, given the situation, revealed to everyone the extraordinary life of his friend Nicolò, also noting it in writing.

Here the body of the holy hermit remained for 336 years, until 1503, continuing to be, uninterruptedly, the object of spontaneous worship by the faithful, not only Alcaresi. On 10 May 1503, due to a very long drought, the Alcarese people, in suppliant prayer, went to the Rogato to implore the intercession of the holy hermit: punctually the rain fell abundantly and publicly shouted for the miracle, and to it, that certainly it was not the first, others were added. At this point the Alcaresi decided to ask the Holy See for official recognition of Nicolò's holiness and his cult. A petition to the Holy Father was drafted. which certainly was not the first, others were added. At this point the Alcaresi decided to ask the Holy See for official recognition of Nicolò's holiness and his cult. A petition to the Holy Father was drafted[13] , which illustrated the heroic life of Nicolò and the miracles that occurred through his intercession, and was sent to Rome by two delegates, the priest Antonio Rundo and the fellow citizen Giovanni Cottone, at the expense of the Alcarese community. Finally, after a period of hardship, on 7 June 1507, the two Alcaresi obtained from Pope Julius II the issue of a Papal Brief which recognized the sanctity of Nicolò Politi and publicly authorized his worship.

Since then, five hundred years have passed and the veneration of San Nicolò Politi has never been extinguished in his devoted faithful, on the contrary it has grown more and more, becoming more mature and authentic, aimed at discovering and contemplating the authentically evangelical dimension of a testimony of life so unique, so extraordinary and so admirable.

Alcara li Fusi, July 2006 Orazio Antonino Faraci


[1] This hymn is reported by Ottavio Caietani, in "Vitae Sanctorum Siculorum", in the chapter concerning the life of San Nicolò Politi, published in Palermo, in 1657, at the Cirillo Printing House. The hymn was sent to Caietani in Italian translation by the Alcaresi who had recovered it from a Greek code found in the semi-destroyed monastery of Santa Maria del Rogato, near Alcara.

[2] Ottavio Caietani, in the aforementioned work, in Animadversiones in vitam S. Nicolai Eremitae, states that the anonymous monk who had been one of his confessors in the monastery of Santa Maria del Rogato. He also states below that his life was enriched by the chronicle of the many miracles performed by the saint, taken from the references contained in his ancient office. Finally, he refers to another biography of an uncertain but trustworthy author.

[3] Merlino Placido, Lu Niculau Eremita, Sicilian poem in octave rhyme and eight cantos, Tip. Giacomo Di Matteo, 1652, Messina.

[4] The exact year of birth can be constructed backwards, starting from the date of death, 1167, which is deduced by Caietani in the cited work. Starting from the assumption that the whole tradition attests that the life of Saint Nicholas lasted fifty years, it is easy to arrive at 1117.

[5] Cf. Song of Songs, v. 8.7.

[6] The text is from the Sac. G. Oriti, Archpriest, contained in "On the life, worship and miracles of San Nicolò Politi, Protector of the city of Alcara li Fusi, Tip". Dante Alighieri, Riposto, 1914. It is clear that it is a text constructed by the author, but how can we not believe it to be entirely plausible?

[7] On the denomination and the existence, in that year, of a Basilian monastery in that of Maniace, cf. Gaetano Morelli, San Nicolò Politi, patron saint of Alcara, Tipografia D'Amico, Messina, 1967, pages 20 - 25. Or, on the same question and on the veracity of the encounter with San Lorenzo: Don Alfio Conti, A hermit in Paris? , Rich Tipolitografia, Adrano (Ct), 2005, pp. 82 - 86.

[8] See Ottavio Caietani: op.cit.

[9] See Ottavio Caietani: op. cit.

[10] See Translation of the Alcarese parchment marked with the Greek letter “iota”, carried out by me in a study contained in the appendix n.1 to the Text by Giuseppe Stazzone, “Holy Water. San Nicolò Politi ”, by the Committee of San Nicolò Politi 1993/1994. Tip. You Lend It Gina. Capo d'Orlando.

[11] See Luke 2:29 (It is the opening words of the famous “Nunc dimittis”, the Canticle of Simeon).

[12] “Not moved by any human force” See Caietani, op. cit.

[13] The Supplica degli Alcaresi to the Pope is preserved in an original photo in the Parish Archive of the Mother Church of Adrano. The document goes back to its cataloging in the Vatican Secret Archives: Reg. Suppl. 1250, page 301, issue XV of Book X, Year IV. The year IV refers to the fourth year of Julius II's pontificate, that is 1507, and probably it is the year in which the Supplica was received and registered.

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