|Saint Nicholas of
Tolentino, Priest, 1246-1306
A sunburst, usually with a child's face in it, is a common attribute of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, often on the breast of his black Augustinian habit. The façade of the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Tolentino has a huge sunburst, also with a child's face in the center. The sunburst may refer to a vision of a star that led him to Tolentino, where he spent much of his career.1 The child's face may reflect the episode in Peter of Monte Rubiano's Vita S. Nicolai Tolentinatis where the saint recounts having seen the face of the Christ Child in the host at Mass.2
Giorgi, Saints in Art, says he sometimes is seen with a flowering lily branch or a crucifix.3 A triptych from the 16th century does show him with a lily branch and also with a dish of bread to which two birds have just alighted. The bread surely refers to the Augustinian custom, traced to Nicholas, of blessing bread and distributing it to the poor.4 The Acta Sanctorum devotes 14 pages to miracles ascribed to such bread.5
As for the birds, none appear in the Vita. In the bread miracles no birds come to the bread, although one episode involves demons who assail a ship at sea in the form of large black birds, and who actually flee the bread when it is cast on the waters.6
At left, detail from a portrait of the saint in a di Paolo altarpiece.
Feast day: September 10
Polyptych with the Virgin and Child, 1454Hagiography:
Nicholas was canonized in 1446, too late for the Golden Legend.