Saint Nicaise / Nicasio / Nicasius

Martyr of the Order of Malta

Memorial: 1 July

One of the Kameti family (who were later known as de Burgo), he was born in Sicily in 1135. He became a knight of the Order of St. John, fought as one of the defenders at the siege of Acre in Palestine and was captured and beheaded there in 1187 with many others, including, it is said, his brother Ferrandino.


O God, every year you give us joy in the commemoration of your martyr, blessed Nicasius: grant that through his prayers and example the companions of our Order may grow in faith and always follow you with all their hearts. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(From: The Missal with readings of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes, & of Malta, London 1997)

All that is known of Saint Nicaise, a martyr Knight, is that he lived shortly after the Blessed Gerland. His picture, painted in several churches (in Saint Dominic of Palermo, Saint Catherine dell'Olivella - not far from the altar of the Madonna of Itria - Saint Mary of Miracles, in Palermo, as well as in Saint John Decapitated, in Valletta, Malta) goes to show that we are not speaking of a myth but of a martyr of our Order.

Under the effigy of Saint Nicaise, drawn on a column of Saint Dominic of Palermo, can be read this inscription, bearing witness to a popular belief:

" S. Nicasius Martyr et Miles Domini nostri Jesu Christi, multas in collo habuit glandulas et imperavit a Domino nostro Jesu Christo ut quicumque nomen suum supra se portaverit, glandulae ei nocere non poterint. Amen".

Therefore, our Knight was either scrofulous or suffered from scrofula as a consequence of his tortures. He will guard us from scrofula from his high place in heaven, on one simple condition: if our "glands" worry us or trouble our children, let us write with confidence the name of Saint Nicaise and let us wear it on us or put it in the clothing of the patient; the holy martyr will indeed know how to cure the disease he knew.

And if our curiosity impels us to know mol e about his life, with Frà Bosio I shall tell you to act in such a way that "we shall be worthy of knowing what he has done ... in Heaven".

(From: Ducaud-Bourget, Msgr. François: The Spiritual Heritage of The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Vatican 1958)

 History has been stingy about the life and martyrdom of St Nicasius, but through the testimony of relatives of the Saint himself, and because original documents still exist in the archives near the times and age when St. Nicasius lived, that give authenticity to the story which we will follow, it is possible to track a few essential moments of his life.

   St. Nicasius was born between 1130 and 1140 and died a martyr in 1187. He was of Sicilian origin, probably from Palermo, descendant from the Saracens by the father side and from the Normans from the mother side. The Saracen Hammud (told Kamut, Kamet or Achmet), Emir of Girgenti (Agrigento) and of Castrogiovanni (Enna), when Girgenti was conquered by Count Roger d’Hauteville in1086, secured himself in Castrogiovqanni, resisting there for long time and finally negotiating the terms of his surrender. In 1088 he converted to Christianity with his all family, was baptized at Sciacca by the bishop of Girgenti, Gerland, and had as godfather the same Cont Roger from whom he took his Christian name as Roger Camuto.

   On July 4, 1088 Count Roger gave him the castle and the land of Burgio in the Val di Mazzara. From this investiture he gave his descendants the family name of “Burgio”. The son of Roger Camuto, Robert of Burgio, wedded Aldegonda, a noble woman relative of the Hauteville. Robert and Aldegonda bore four children: Roger, who was given the castle of Sciacca by the Countess Julia, on October 14, 1144; William, who in 1166 was present to the crowning of king William II as Chargee among the Greats of the Realm; Ferrandino and Nicasius who embraced the religious life as members of the Hospital Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, today known as the Order of Malta.

   The two brothers, Ferrandino and Nicasius took, as lay brothers, the three religious vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience and a fourth vow “to stay in arms”, for the protection and consolation of the poors, to assist the pilgrims and the sick, and for the defense of the Christian territory of the Holy Land. They adhered fully to the spirit of the Order, which as inspirational principle had the defense of the faith, the assistance to the pilgrims and the sick, the promise of solidarity for justice, peace, on the basis of the teachings of the evangelical doctrine in strict communion with the Holy See, through active and dynamic charity, helped by prayer.

   They answered to the call of the great Master of Jerusalem, Roger Des Moulins, who was asking help to the Christian princes to free the Holy Land. In 1185, they embarked at Trapani, following Roger Des Moulins, who had returned from Jerusalem, escorted by two ships of king William II, and departed toward the Holy Land, where, according to the spirit of the Order, gave their services to the sick and the pilgrims in the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.

   In 1187 the Sultan Saladin whose realm went from the Libyan desert to the valley of the Tigris, surrounding from three sides the crusaders land, invaded the realm of Jerusalem on June 30. The Christians, after having defended strenuously the Tiberiad castle, decimated and tired, fled to a hill called the Hattin Horns, where July 4 were definitively defeated, taken prisoners and handed to the executioners. In this battle, which ended with the surrender of Tiberiad and Tolemaid, were killed Roger Des Moulins and a great part belonging to the Hospital Order. St. Nicasius who was a captain in the army of Roger Des Moulins was taken prisoner during the battle of Hattin and because refused to convert to the Moslem religion, he was decapitated in the presence of Saladin.

   When the archbishop of Tire, Josias, went to Palermo in the summer of 1187, gave the news of the death of the brothers Ferrandino and Nicasius to king William II, the king tore his luxury silken clothes, wore a hassock and did atonement for four days.

   Nicasius was venerated as martyr soon after the first years of his death, and this proves that he died as Christian in the defense of Christ and the faith. St. Nicasius was a crusader who gave witness of his own faith with martyrdom, giving the example on how to live in the spirit of the angelic beatitudes, which he swore to realize, clothing himself with the dress of the Knights of Jerusalem (the octagonal white cross, sign of the eight beatitudes), as much he was able to leave the comfort of his home, to become poor in the name of the Lord, accepting the affliction of a long travel to the Holy Land, to serve Christ in the sick and in the travelers with the kindness of who, hungry and thirsty for justice, hoped to give once more to the Christians the joy to venerate the holy places where the Savior had lived, and all this as a fruit of goodness toward his fellow men, that is, of his love which was his strength in the persecution faced to bring peace there where it was withheld from the Christians.

   The emperor Frederick II, on August 24, 1232, with an investiture, gave the lands of Caltagirone to William of Burgio, making him viceroy of the Val di Noto, and among other things he mentions the brothers Ferrandino and Nicasius of the Burgio family “…in sueprdicto Hosptale crucesignati…qui in humanae et Divinae Mjestatis servitium sanguinem effunderunt…” ( above mentioned Hospital marked by the sign of the Cross... that at the service the Divine and human Majesty shed their blood...) gully

   It seems that the veneration of the martyr Nicasius could have strarted in Caccamo, but an altar dedicated to him existed already in 1305 in the mother church of Saint Peter in Trapani. The priest Vincent Venuti in his “Discorso storico-critico” about St. Nicasius Martyr, printed in 1762, writes “…now because of the dominions that the Burgio family had near Caccamo. Or because of devotion, which the Cabrera family exercised toward St. Nicasius, or because of both reasons, I figure that, little by little, some what of a cult toward our St Nicasius of Jerusalem, went in Caccamo …” The Burgios were not lords of Caccamo, but they owned a Casale (an aristocratic country home) near the city called the Minor Caccamo, which extended its boundaries to Termini Imerese, four miles from Caccamo.

   By the way, one can read in the will of Robert Lo Burgio, dated July 4, 1230 “… investit ex nunc et pro tempore post ejus mortem Dominum Rubertellum… Feuds et Casalis Caccabi minoris, et de omnibus terris a dicto Casale descendentibus in vallonem usque ad confines Hymeram…”. (...Master Robert gives from now and for ever after his death, ...the Feuds and the building of Caccamo Minor, and all the land from said bulding through the canyon to the limit with Himera [Termini]...). Besides, a descendant of the Burgio family, Nicolò Lo Burgio wedded Leonora Cabrera, one time Lady of Caccamo. In Sicily the cult of St. Nicasius spread from Caccamo, where, as we said was introduced by the Cabrera family, that claimed him as an ancestor and, in order to divulge the family fame, had represented that martyr as patron of the city, and claiming him , at the same time, as protector of the family. In Caccamo he reached the highest point through the work of the Beatified Giovanni Liccio who made his veneration more compelling.

   Once the devotion was on its way, many paintings were made of the Saint in the streets and in the homes of Caccamo, as it is confirmed by a notary act of 1573, and particularly in the church to him dedicated, across the city, to protect from there all the inhabitants. From this it seems clear that St. Nicasius is the most ancient protector of Caccamo. Many are the miracles seen in Caccamo by the intercession of St. Nicasius, one of this the stopping of the pestilences of 1575 and 1624. St. Nicasius was also prayed upon to heal a sickness of the neck, called “struma or scrofula”, which is an enlargement of the glands of the upper neck, and this facilitated the spreading of the devotion in all Sicily.

   In Caccamo a confraternity was formed on his name and approved by the archbishop of Palermo Diego De Haedo, in August 5, 1596, which gave major strength to the veneration that the people of Caccamo paid to St. Nicasius, giving them, on August 29, 1604, a relic of the saint, which he had found under a stone of the central altar at the Palermo cathedral , where had been deposited some years after the death of William Burgio, who in his will, dated August 4, 1347, wrote”…e cchiui vogghiu chi miu figghiu Franciscu avissi a fari bona la dunazioni, chi iu fici di la Reliquia di Santu Nicasiu miu parenti a la chiesa di Palermu, quali reliquia fu data a lu quondam Robertu di lu Burgiu di un militi dittu Vestul, di cui fu Duci, e Capitanu lu dittu Santu Nicasiu, quannu cummattia pri la Fidi di Cristu, comu militi di li Spitali di Gerusalemmi…” (…and more I want that my son Francis will make good the donation that I made of the relic of St. Nicasius, my relative, to the church of Palermo, said relic was given to Robert of Burgio by a soldier called Vestul, of whom said St. Nicasius was master and captain, when he was fighting for the faith of Christ, as a Soldier of the Hospitals of Jerusalem).

   Cardinal Giannettino Doria ordered that October 17, 1609 be a mandated festivity for the city of Caccamo the anniversary of St. Nicasius, “giving to all those who would visit the church of St. Nicasius on the eve and on the festivity day of said Saint, up to the sunset of said festivities one hundred days of indulgence, besides the plenary indulgence which His Holiness the pope bestowed on said church”.

   On May 31, 1625, with an official paper, drown by the notary Pietro Ciuffo, the Clergy, the Mayor and the Jurors of Caccamo elected St. Nicasius Martyr, Patron of the city, with the perpetual vow to celebrate the festivities yearly, at the expenses of the community, the last Sunday of August and the following Monday (anniversary day of the transfer of the relic).

   On October 4, 1996 the Archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi with a decree reactivated the ancient Confraternity of St. Nicasius. The Martyrologium Romanum promulgated in 2001 by His Holiness John Paul II set the liturgic festivities of St. Nicasius Martyr July 1 “Die 1 iulii – Ptolemaide in Palestina, sancti Nicasii, equitis Ordinis Sancti Ioannis Hiresolymitani et martyris, qui in terrae Sanctae defensione a Saracenis captus et decollatus est”. (July 1, Ptolomaides, in Palestine, to St. Nicasius martyr, knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, who in the defense of the Holy Land was captured and decapitated by the Saracens). In Caccamo, every year, besides the liturgical festivities on July 1, it is celebrated, on the last Sunday of August and the following Monday, the transfer of the relic of St. Nicasius Martyr. 

Quoted from

San Nicasio martire

Wikipedia: Nicasius_of_Sicily

Page last modified on Saturday, 23 July 2016 23:07:45

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St. Nicasius
Oilpainting at the Grand Magistry of the Order of Malta in Rome

St. Nicasius: Oil on stone by Mattia Preti (c. 1664-65)
vault, St. John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta

St. Nicasius Martyr: Oil on canvas, 210 x 159 cm, by Mattia Preti
Oratory of the Decollation, St.John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta/Malta
(This picture is often attributed to Blessed Adrian Fortesque)

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[Saint Nicasius, Canvas, Collegio, Malta]

The Madonna and Child Between St. Francis and St. Nicasius, also known as Castelfranco Madonna, is a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Giorgione executed around 1503. It is housed in the Cathedral of Castelfranco Veneto, Giorgione's native city, in Veneto, northern Italy.

St. Nicasius from Mußbach, now at Cathedral Treasury at Speyer/Germany

Icon (detail) at Malteser Kommende in Ehreshoven/Germany