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Nicholas Tavelic (Croatian: Nikola Tavelić) was a Franciscan missionary who died a martyr’s death in Jerusalem on Nov. 14, 1391. A Croatian friar, he was beatified as part of Nicholas Tavelic, O.F.M. and companions, which included friars from Italy and France. All four members of his group have been declared saints by the Catholic Church, making Tavelic the first Croatian saint.
Tavelic was among 60 friars from various Franciscan provinces who answered an appeal by the Bosnian guardian, motivated by a papal bull, Prae cunctis, issued in 1291 by Pope Nicholas IV, himself a Friar Minor, to work as missionaries in Bosnia, combating the perceived heresies of the Bosnian church.
Tavelic spread Catholicism around Bosnia for 12 years. In his report to the pope, the Bosnian guardian later said that the missionaries converted around 50,000 members of that church.
In 1384, Tavelic went to serve in the Custody of the Holy Land where he met the friars Deodatus Aribert of Rodez, Peter of Narbonne and Stephen of Cuneo. The four lived at the Monastery of Mount Zion, the ancient friary maintained by the Friars Minor in the city, where they spent several years learning Arabic and serving at the holy sites connected to Jesus’ life, which had been entrusted to the care of the Order of Friars Minor and which still drew pilgrims from Christian Europe.
After having seen few, if any, conversions from the Muslim populace of the city resulting from their quiet pastoral work at the holy sites of Christianity, Tavelic and his colleagues decided to take the option given to them in the Rule of Life of their founder, Francis of Assisi, and to preach openly the Christian faith to the Muslim populace.
They went to the regular gathering before the Qadi of Jerusalem and began to preach. Following their arrest for this, they refused the option to convert to Islam and were imprisoned. After again refusing to convert several days later, the group was sentenced to death. These missionaries were executed near the Jaffa Gate on Nov. 14, 1391, and their remains completely burned.