Thomas (c1225-1274) was most likely born in the castle of Roccasecca, near Aquino. His family were people of means and his Uncle was Abbot of Monte Cassino, the oldest Benedictine monastery. Thomas was expected to succeed his uncle as Abbot.
He was enrolled in the University in Naples, where he came under the influence of the Dominican John of St Julian. Thomas determined to join the Dominicans, but his brothers seized him and brought him to his parents’ castle where he was held as a virtual prisoner for nearly a year, until, realising that they were unable to dissuade him, his mother allowed him to escape through a window. He joined the Dominicans and was sent to the University of Paris in 1245 to study with Albertus Magnus. The remainder of his life was divided between Paris and Italy, studying, lecturing and writing, until his early death at the age of 49.
Thomas combined an astonishing intellectual acumen with a profound holiness of life. His greatest work, the Summa Theologica, is a compendium of the theological teachings of the Catholic Church, intended as an instructional guide for students, lay and clergy alike. He never completed it. On 6th December 1273 (the feast of St Nicholas) he experienced a profound mystical vision after which he refused to dictate anything further to his scribes. ‘Compared to what I have seen,’ he declared, ‘all I have written is no more than a bundle of straw.’ He was riding to the Council of Lyons in February of 1274 when he struck his head on the branch of a tree. He never recovered from this injury and died on 7th March 1274. He was declared a Doctor (teacher) of the Church by Pope Pius V in 1567, just after the Council of Trent.