Nicholas and his three companions are among the 158 Franciscans who have been martyred in the Holy Land since the friars became custodians of the shrines in 1335.
Nicholas was born in 1340 to a wealthy and noble family in Croatia. He joined the Franciscans and was sent with Deodat of Rodez to preach in Bosnia. In 1384, they volunteered for the Holy Land missions and were sent there. They looked after the holy places, cared for the Christian pilgrims, and studied Arabic.
In 1391, Nicholas, Deodat, Peter of Narbonne and Stephen of Cuneo decided to take a direct approach to converting the Muslims. On November 11, 1391, they went to the huge Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem and asked to see the Qadi (Muslim official). Reading from a prepared statement, they said that all people must accept the Gospel of Jesus. When they were ordered to retract their statement, they refused. After beatings and imprisonment, they were beheaded before a large crowd.
Nicholas and his companions were canonized in 1970. They are the only Franciscans martyred in the Holy Land to be canonized.
Francis presented two missionary approaches for his friars. Nicholas and his companions followed the first approach (live quietly and give witness to Christ) for several years. Then they felt called to take the second approach of preaching openly. Their Franciscan confreres in the Holy Land are still working by example to make Jesus better known.
The Liturgical Feast of Saint Nicholas Tavelic and Companions is November 14.