The personal stories of these Franciscan missionaries, are intertwined in 1383, when, coming from different places in Europe, they flowed into the Franciscan convent of Mount Zion in Palestine, where the Order of St. Francis has been for centuries the Custodian of the Holy Places of Christianity.
The Friars Minor, Nicholas Tavelic, Deodato of Aribert Ruticinio, Stephen of Cuneo and Peter of Narbonne found themselves in that Franciscan monastery, where they lived for eight years, according to the Rule of St. Francis, performing their duties, for the care of Places sanctity of life and death of Jesus, and trying to do apostolate in the Muslim world, where Mount Zion was almost like an island amid a sea of Muslims.
With Muslims, the apostolate was almost fruitless, since the deepening of their faith, they were not open to inter-religious dialogue.
Nevertheless, the four Friars Minor, decided to bring the Gospel to the Mohammedans (a name Muslims dislike, since it smacks of over-reverence for a human, Mohammed, much like Christianity intentionally imputes reverence for Christ), publicly exposing the arguments of Christianity and Islam and comparing them with those after consultation with two theologians, prepared a memorandum in which, in a detailed way, and rich with historical references and theological logic, they meticulously exposed the Christian doctrine by refuting Islam.
On November 11, 1391, they went before the Cadi (judge) of Jerusalem in the presence of many Muslims, they were exposed reading this, they presented their arguments with great courage.
While those present listened carefully, it was not accepted, and in the end they went into a rage and then the monks were asked to recall what they said; the four monks refused and so were sentenced to death in three days were put behind bars where they suffered abuse.
On November 14, they were brought back to the streets, again asked to recant what was said against Islam, after rejecting this final opportunity to save their lives by denying Christ, they were beheaded and cremated so that their remains could not be venerated as martyrs by Christians.
Their martyrdom was described in detail in a report by the Guardian of the Holy Land, Father Gerald Calvet, OFM, two months after their death.
Their cult was recognized by the Franciscan Order, dating from the fifteenth century; Pope Leo XIII, in 1889, confirmed only the cult of Nicholas Tavelic, the leader, who had great reverence in his native Yugoslavia.
In 1966, Pope Paul VI confirmed the cult for the other three Franciscan Martyrs, starting their feast at November 17, but in the Franciscan Martyrology they were remembered on the date of their death (dies natalis, which, literally, translates from the Latin as “birthday”. Saints are honored on the day of their death, their “birthday” into eternal life.), November 14.
Pope Paul VI, on June 21, 1970, in Rome, elevated them to the honors of the altar, proclaimed them saints, and their liturgical celebration was extended to November 14 for all, and inserted into the Roman Martyrology on the same date; they are the first martyrs and saints charged with the Custody of the Holy Land.
First saint of the Croatian nation, Nicola Tavelic, was born about 1340 in Šibenik, Dalmatia; as a teenager he walked among the Friars Minor of St. Francis, became a priest, was a missionary in Bosnia, along with his fellow priest, Deodato Ruticinio, where for nearly 12 years he preached against the Bogomil, a heretical sect that had its stronghold in Bosnia (they contrasted the spirit world than that of matter, considered an expression of force of evil, they denied the Trinity, the human nature of Christ, the Old Testament, did not recognize the rites and sacraments of baptism and marriage, nor the church hierarchy).
Then in 1383, along with the French father, Aribert Ruticinio, Deodato, was sent to the Mission of Palestine Mont Sion in Jerusalem, where he met the other two future fellow martyrs, Father Stephen of Cuneo and Father Peter of Narbonne, France.
Deodato Ruticinio (aka Diode Aribert):
Was from the Franciscan Province of Aquitaine. We do not know his date of birth, which was probably around 1340. His country of birth, which in Latin is called Ruticinio was identified by some with the modern French city of Rodez, while some other shows the Roussillon, the historical region of southern France, but at that time depended on Catalonia. In 1372 he was sent as a missionary in Bosnia, where he met Father Nicola Tavelic, to whom he was bound by sincere friendship, all preaching against the Bogomil; in 1383 with his brother he was assigned to the Franciscan convent of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where he also met the Fathers Stefano Cuneo and Peter of Narbonne.
Peter of Narbonne:
All that is known of this Franciscan Martyr from the Franciscan Province of Provence in southern France, where at one point, he went down into Italy, attracted by the Franciscan Observance Reform, launched in Umbria in 1368, by Blessed Paul or Paoluccio Trinci of Foligno (1309-1391). He was at the hermitage Umbrian Brogliano, located between Foligno and Camerino, fifteen years, living in prayer and meditation on the spirituality of St. Francis. In 1381 he left as a missionary to the Holy Land, received into the convent of Mount Zion in Jerusalem where he met Nicola Tavelic in 1383, Deodato from Ruticinio, his compatriot and Stephen of Cuneo, with whom he will later be martyred so horribly, on November 14, 1391.
Stephen of Cuneo:
Very little is known about the Franciscan Saint Martyred in Jerusalem, Stephen of Cuneo, made from precious ‘report’ made by the Father Superior of the convent of Mount Sion, on the martyrdom of the four priests belonging to the convent of the Custody of the Holy Land. Father Stephen of Cuneo, was of the Franciscan Province of Genoa and spent eight years in the vicarious in Corsica, before being transferred to Jerusalem in 1383, where he could fulfill his apostolic activity among the Muslims for another eight years before his martyrdom, suffered along with fellow French by Deodato Ruticinio and Peter of Narbonne and the Croatian Nicola Tavelic. The city of origin of the Franciscan saint, Cuneo, seems doubtful, since an historic renaissance, claimed to have collected a local tradition, which made him a native of Fiumorbo in Corsica, with a separate family Prunelli.
O God, who didst glorify Thy confessor Blessed Nicholas by spreading the Gospel and by the palm of martyrdom, grant in answer to our prayer, that we may merit to walk in his footsteps and through his intercession deserve to receive the victor’s reward of eternal life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.