In Tolentino, Piceno, the passing away of St. Nicholas, Confessor, of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine. – Roman Martyrology for September 10
A sunburst, usually with a child's face in it, is a common attribute of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, often on the breast of the black habit or his order, the Eremitani Augustinians. 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
In the first picture at right the saint is pictured as an older man with white hair, but in most other images he is a young man. In all the portraits I have examined he is tonsured and beardless.
Giorgi, Saints in Art, says he is sometimes seen with a flowering lily branch or a crucifix.3 The portrait at right does show him with a lily branch and also a dish with a small roast bird and two live birds. The birds refer to an account in which the saint was ill and his prior The head of a local community of friars insisted that he "put his hand on" the roast partridge brought to him to ease his sickness. Nicholas put his hand on the partridge, but instead of eating he prayed over it and the bird came to life and flew away (image).5
Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2017-07-12.