St. Nicholas of Myrna, the original Santa Claus, was born and lived present-day Turkey in the 3rd and 4th century. Today he is deeply revered by Catholics and Orthodox Christians and children around the globe and was probably the most popular saint in the Middle Ages.
St. Nicholas’s feast day is December 6th. The Catholic church no longer celebrates it but the Orthodox church does. Over the years St. Nicholas has been honored as the patron saint of children, merchants, travelers, scholars, sailors, prostitutes, moneylenders, pirates, pawnbrokers, and thieves. The Orthodox church honors him as the patron saint of virgins, sailors and pawnbrokers. December 6th has endured in many places as a day of gift giving called St. Nicholas Day.
In Russia, St. Nicholas is a protectors of many cities and towns, and most of the ports. He is a protector from thieves and criminals and a guaranteer of debts and justice in this world and the next. A Russian proverb goes: “If God were to die, at least we would still have St. Nicolas.”
One legendary attribute that led to the story of Santa Claus was his habit of giving gifts in secret. Believers say his remains produce a liquid called manna, or myrrh, said to have healing powers. In 1087, Italian sailors spirited the bones to Bari, Italy, where the remains have been kept in a crypt ever since.
Valerie Strauss wrote in the Washington Post: “ It is said his parents died when he was young and that the religious Nicolas, who was raised by his uncle, was left a fortune. Ordained as a priest, he used his money to help others and become a protector of children, performing miracles to help them. He was, the center says, persecuted by Roman Emperor Diocletian and buried in 343 A.D. in a church, where a substance with healing powers, called manna, formed in his grave. The day of his death, Dec. 6, became a day of celebration.” [Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, December 24, 2014 +++]
Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Saints and Their Lives Today's Saints on the Calendar catholicsaints.info ; Saints' Books Library saintsbooks.net ; Saints and Their Legends: A Selection of Saints libmma.contentdm ; Saints engravings. Old Masters from the De Verda collection colecciondeverda.blogspot.com ; Lives of the Saints - Orthodox Church in America oca.org/saints/lives ; Lives of the Saints: Catholic.org catholicism.org
St. Nicholas’s Life
Saint Nicholas was born in A.D. 271 (or 280) in the present-day Turkish town of Patara into a wealthy, devoutly-Christian family. As an adult he became a bishop in the Mediterranean village of Myra (present-day Demre). Much of what is known about his life is more legend than fact. The Golden Legend , a popular 13th century myth book of the saint’s lives, described Nicholas as pious from birth. He never bothered to crawl. He started walking immediately after he was delivered and refused his mother’s milk and fasted twice a week.
While there is no firm evidence of Nicholas of Myra’s early life, another Nicholas, a holy-oracle-working monk at the monastery of St. Sino is documented as living between 480 and around 564. Over time the stories and miracles attributed to each Nicholas merged into one.
Saint Nicholas converted to Christianity, traveled to Palestine, and became a priest as age 19 and a bishop in his 20s. He was imprisoned by the Romans during Emperor Diocletian’s “Great Persecution” for preaching and refusing to renounce his religion. He was tortured, deprived of food and drink and spent 12 years in prison and was released in A.D. 312 when Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire.
St. Nicholas, the Brawling, Benevolent Saint
After inheriting his family's wealth Nicholas decided to use the money to help the poor. Although he was brought up in a period of persecution he fought ferociously against corruption and injustice and even came to the assistance of Roman soldiers who had been unfairly accused. He was known for his generosity and fondness of children, which helped his transformation into Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas was also known as being vengeful and full of fight. According to legend to he prayed for bad things to occur to the Artemis-worshipping pagans in his parish. His prayers were answered with the destruction of the Artemis temple in Myrna. When the local pagans asked him for some help. He told them, “Go to Hell’s fire, which has been lit for you by the Devil.”
Saint Nicholas made a name for himself in A.D., 325 at the Council of Nicaea, where, during a debate, he punched a priest from Egypt who dared to suggest that Jesus was not divine but only a prophet. The Egyptian priest reportedly sustained a black eye while St. Nicholas was set upon by a group of holymen who tore off his robes and threw him in prison.
Saint Nicholas died on December 6th in 326, 342 or 352. He was buried in an elaborate marble sarcophagus.
Miracles Attributed to St. Nicholas
A number of miracles were attributed to Nicholas. He reportedly saved of the life of three sailors by calming stormy seas with his prayers. He threw three bags of gold in the windows (or chimney) of a house of three unmarried virgins to rescue them from a life or prostitution. The money was used to provide the girls with dowries and husbands. This story is believed to be the source of the gifts and chimneys stories of Santa Claus. The three bags morphed into three globes or apples which became the saint’s standard symbol in Western art and are the source of the three globes found at pawnbroker’s shops.
According to another legend, a robber entered a tavern and murdered and dismembered three children and placed their remains in barrels, which were pickled, salted and cured for customers to eat. St. Nicholas entered the tavern and was asked if he was hungry. Nicholas replied: not of what the tavern was offering. He then made the dismembered children whole again. This tale led to him becoming the patron saint of children and stories of him giving presents to good children and twigs to naught ones.
Many more miracles were attributed to Nicholas after his death. According to a story from the 9th century, a demon disguised as an old woman told some pilgrims to take some flasks of oil to Myrna and light them. The flasks, which contained powerful explosives, were carried aboard a ship. A passenger aboard the ship had a dream that flasks should be thrown overboard, they were and waves burst into flames and the seas boiled but the ship and the passengers were saved. This miracle made Nicholas popular among sailors, who prayed to the saint for safe passage and protection from storms. It is reasoned that Nicholas’s popularity among seamen helped spread his name and legends to ports all over Europe, where he was embraced, popularized and spread further.
In 1057, a prior refused to allow a group monks to sing a honoring St. Nicholas on his feast day. At night St. Nicholas appeared before the prior with a horsewhip and sang the song and continued singing it until the prior learned “to sing the whole song from beginning to end.”
St. Nicholas’s Body and Icons
The church where St. Nicholas was buried in Myrna became a popular pilgrimage site. After his death, St. Nicholas’s sarcophagus was periodically filled with fragrant oil. The oil dripped through cracks in the sarcophagus and was collected by priests who made lots of money selling the oil with claims it had miraculous powers.
St. Nick and the Schoolboys In 1087, after Myra was taken over by Muslim, the bones of St. Nicholas were taken by Italian sailors to Bari, Italy, where a massive church was built to house them. There he became the patron saint of children. The theft of the bones from Myrna is believed to have been motivated more by money than piety. With no bones to attract pilgrims the church in Myra fell into disrepair and eventually vanished while Bari’s stature grew and a festival was established to celebrate the “Translation of the Relics to Bari.”
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, increasing numbers of East Europeans and Russians have been making the way to Bari to pay their respects. There are even direct flights there from Moscow. There is so much art work devoted to St. Nicholas that entire exhibitions---including one called St. Nicolas: Artistic Splendors of East and West in Bari--- have been devoted to images of him made through the ages.
St. Nicholas is a popular subject in icon painting. He is thought to have been the first saint to be featured as the subject of a “hagiographical icon” which depicts not only a likeness it also bordering veneers of his life works and miracles. This type of icon appeared in the late 12th century is places St. Catherine’s in the Sinai and Pugilia Italy. Nicholas is often depicted flanked by Christ handing him the gospels and the Virgin Mary giving him his bishop’s stole.
From the sea ports of southern Europe St. Nicholas spread into Russia along river trading routes and reached the pinnacle of his deification, not only being pictured with Christ and Mary but also being described as “The Russian divinity” and the “forth member of the Trinity.” In Russian icons, Nicholas was often pictured with a sword in one hand and a miniature representation of Russian towns in the other and was widely viewed as a protector of the Russian people, especially from the Tatars.
In Bari, St. Nicholas acted as bridge between Catholics and Orthodox Christians and it wasn’t long before he became a Catholic bishop. The establishment of his feast day on December 6th paved the way for its incorporation into pagan winter festivities and seasonal gift-giving in northern Europe. Later Nicholas’s association with children and generosity made him palatable to Protestants. The Dutch, some believe, are the source of stories that Nicholas not only rewards good children but punishes bad ones.
Transformation of St. Nicholas Into Santa Claus
Sinter Klaus In the Middle Ages, St. Nicholas was pictured as a thin man in a bishop's robes and miter. He was regarded as the brawling saint and was known more for being vindictive and short-tempered than jolly. There were stories about him horsewhipping people even after he died.
Fourteenth-century documents show that children at that time received gifts and students received rewards or reprimands on St. Nicholas's feast day in early December when parents and teachers sometimes dressed up as the beloved bishop.
Word of Nicholas’s good deeds spread to northern Europe where he was transformed into Santa Klaus. After the reformation, Protestants sailed to recognize many Catholic saints, and St. Nicholas became associated with Father Christmas, a mythic Nordic figure who gave out presents to good children.
Dutch sailors adopted St. Nicholas as their patron saint on long voyages. He also became known as gift giver who brought presents to good children and rods to bad ones. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas "Sin Nikolass" which was later altered to "Sinterklass" (If you say "St. Nicholas" really fast it comes out "Santa Claus"). Appearance-wise he remained a skinny bishop.
Arrival and Commercialization of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus in America
St. Nicolas was brought to the New World by Columbus, who named a Haitian port for him in 1492. In the 16th century Dutch immigrants brought "Sinterklass" to New Amsterdam (present-day New York City) where his name was later anglicized into Santa Claus. Many Christians customs were introduced to America by the Germans.
In the 19th Century, Santa Claus was popularized in the United States by the Washington Irving story History of New York and the poem The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, a Bible scholar from a wealthy family. Irving’s St. Nick arrived in a flying wagon, smoked a long pipe and wore a “low, broad-rimmed hat” and had the ability to disappear by touching his nose. Moore’s St. Nick was “chubby and plump” and “a right jolly old elf” with a belly that shakes like jelly. He rode in a sleigh puled by reindeer with names like Dancer, Prancer and Vixen.
Moore’s poem helped to link St. Nicholas and Santa Claus with Christmas rather than St. Nicholas Day. Between 1862 and 1886, Santa Claus was pictured as a jolly fat man with a beard and toys in Harper's Weekly magazine in cartoons by Thomas Nast, a German-born political cartoonist who also conceived the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey.
Santa Portrait by Nast in 1881 Our present image of Santa Claus is based primarily on the Thomas Nast Harper’s Weekly illustrations of “Merry Old Santa Claus” and Coca-Cola ads from the 1940s. His suit is red because those were Coke's colors. To this day his wife is known only as Mrs. Claus. The elves were added when it became clear it was too much work for one person to make enough toys for the children of humanity in addition to delivering in one night..
People fond of the St. Nicholas story resent the commercialization of Santa Claus. One member of a group called Anti-Santa Love-Nicholas told the Boston Globe, "The real St. Nicholas was a deeply caring and godly and whose simple life and powerful fate inspired people for centuries. Unfortunately, the modern creature, American Santa Clause, has developed into a very deceptive idol whose jolly face hides an undercurrent of selfishness and secularism."
Theft of the Relics of St. Nicholas
Friar Gerardo Cioffari Op wrote in “Narration of the recovery of the relics of Our holy Father and Wonder-Worker Nicholas” the 11th century: “(1 ) When Alexius was Emperor, and the foreign and infidel hordes that had migrated through the Roman Empire were being pacified' and the bold Normans who had voyaged thither had been beaten and despersed,  certain citizens of the city of Bari, moved by a divine inspiration, purposed to sail in their merchant ships to Antioch, a city situated in Coele, in Syria. This they undertook not for selfish profit, but for a laudable and praiseworthy work - a work worthy of mention, O the marvel of it! For it delights my heart and what 1 have to say will soar aloft on lightsome wing. For they had the intention - and bless them for their prudence, bless them for their good choice! - instead of pursuing mercantile and selfish interests, to cast anchor at Myra and remove the manna-receiving and fragrant remains of our blessed, thrice-happy and inspired Father, and so, this accomplished, to possess and take pride in him as in a great fortune and inseparable treasure. Now, this was, as a matter of fact, the purpose of our Venetian brothers also, even though the deed had been accomplished by the men of Bari. For blessed is not he who begins a thing and does not finish it, but blessed is he who says and does and accomplishes good. In such wise it was, then, that they who heard of the plan of the Venetians were the first to attain the favor. For though the Venetians were bent on taking that goodly treasure and bringing it back to their homeland, the good God did not allow it so to be accomplished, but their plan and its fulfillment was given to the men of Bari, while the conception of the Venetians developed unaccomplished and unactuated . [Source: Basilica di S. Nicola, 70122 Bari (Italy), "The Translation of Saint Nicholas: An anonymous Greek account of the transfer of the Body of Saint Nicholas from Myra to Lycia to Bari in Italy", translated by J. McGinley and H. Mursurillo, Bolletino di S, Nicola, N. 10, Studi e testi, Bari: October 1980), 3-17] <|>
“(2) Disembarking, then, at Myra, these privileged mariners, after approaching the sacred and holy grave of the Blessed, and after bowing down with great humility, as was meet, they made an act of reverence. Then, after they found monks watching beside the holy grave of the Blessed, they requested them to make known to them where the saint's body lay. The monks, thinking that they had made the request in order to reverence the body, with sincerity and kindheartedness complied with their desire and showed them the place where the body of the holy prelate was. The monks afterwards questioned them somewhat sharply "Why you men, do you make such a request? You haven't planned to carry off the remains of the holy saint from here? You don't intend to remove it to your own region ? If that is your purpose, then let it be clearly known to you that you parley with unyielding men, even if it mean our death. For we have rid ourselves of all fear. We won't allow this to be done, we are not going to take after the Iscariot who became a traitor to his own Saviour and Master. Away with any such thoughts! But in truth how can we be unthinking traitors to our own guardian, to our protector, our champion, our intercessor? How can we show ourselves as not submissive, but disobedient servants of our benefactor, our patron and our father?" <|>
“(3) They then who made their request humbly enough as reasonable men, made reply to the monks in humility: "Why surely indeed we admit to you that for no other purpose did we disembark here than to take the holy remains of our inspired Father. We beg you, then, for your acquiescence, to be our helpers in this, and let not our efforts be in vain". And the monks replied: "The saint truly will not allow this to come to pass, and he will not consent to have his body touched. But if you would listen to our advice, make off from these parts with all speed, before the townspeople hear of what is going on and put you to death. " <|>
“The men that made this request, then, seeing that they had answered in bitterness of heart, changed their tactics accordingly as it is written elsewhere: "The best course to be pursued is the one that is the least obnoxious", and they said: "Look you, that we have not disembarked here of our own will, but we have been sent by the Pope of Rome and by the Archbishops and Bishops and authorities at Rome associated with him and the whole Council. For all of these arrived in our city of Bari with a large host and the diverse armies of the west, enjoining on us to accomplish this work, and bring back to the Pope the remains of the saint without fail. Why even the saint himself, appearing in a vision to the Pope bade him do this with all haste. And you if you want, accept suitable recompense from us, that we may depart in peace and benevolence." <|>
“(4) After saying this to the monks, when they saw that these persisted the more in grief and tears and regarded their words as of no account, they forced their way into the miraculous tomb. The watchers seeing this unexpected turn of events and overcome with fear and trembling, rent their garments and pulled at their hair and bears, bewailing their misfortune piteously, and made as if to inform the citizens of the happening. And when the men of Bari perceived-this, they put guards at the entrances and exits of the holy church and, overpowering the monks, took counsel how they could open the holy tomb of the Blessed. And one of them whose name was Lupus, a priest holding a glass vial filled with the prelate's sacred oils, when he saw that his comrades were in distress, let it fall from his hands and heard it crash upon the stones; and he and his companions turned toward the vial and discovered it to be intact. Wherefore they offered fitting praises to God and to His servant and acknowledged with full accord that the will of God and of the saint acquiesced in the removal of his remains from there, For the visitors now had full assurance that the saint was escorting them, and saying:" Here is the tomb in which I lie; take me then, and depart; for the people of Bari are to be forever protected by my intercession." <|>
“(5) One of them, whose name was Matthew, carried away with desire and devotion, and bent on carrying off the sacred remains of the Blessed, rushed upon one of the monks with a sword, saying: "Either show us whether this is the venerable tomb of the saint for whose sake we have come, or I shall dispatch you with my sword", and he seized him with his hand and brandished his sword before him. And one of the monks made answer to Matthew: "' Why my child, do you assail your brother unjustly'? Be assured, then, that this is the sacred and venerable tomb of the Blessed from which the sacred oil wells up. Many kings and potentates, too, especially the rich, have attempted to do this and have been desirous of carrying off the remains of the saint; but they were not able, for God and the saint did not allow them. But now, however, I am much afraid that the words of learning pronounced by our holy Father are now indeed about to be fulfilled in you, when he said that he would be carried off to a foreign land and well apart from us." And the men of Bari, hearing this, questioned the monk with all diligence. "How might you tell us of this vision?". <|>
“And the monk answered: "A year ago, my brothers, our loyal patron appeared in a vision to three of his servants of the monastery and bade them to announce to the citizens who through fear of the Persians had fled twelve stadia into the mountains, to return and dwell in Myra." And if they do not, in very truth I shall depart into a foreign land." And as he predicted, so has it now come to pass, Wherefore, sheathe your naked swords and have done with all strife among us and let there be an end of harsh threats. And if it has been granted to you to remove the venerable remains of the saint, go on your way in peace, with all good-will and resignation from us. For we shall stand condemned, if we do not obey the injunctions of our holy Father. But we trust, God willing, that he will not allow us, his servants, to remain entirely bereft." <|>
“(6) The aforesaid Matthew with his companions, convinced by these words, put down his sword, and, taking up a huge mallet, hammered with great force at the cover of the floor, which was over the oil-exuding tomb, and straightway shattered it. And digging into the hole, led on by the welling favor of the sacred oil, they discovered a second cover which was the lid on top of the splendid chest. When s they had opened this but half way, fearing to shatter it lest perchance they be turned to stone, the aforementioned Matthew, unable to restrain the ardor of his heart, having no care for himself lest he suffer any harm, beat upon the cover with great strength and shattered it to dust. And when they had opened it, they saw the glory of God, for they found it filled with sacred oil, in the presence of Grimaldus and Lupus the priests of the merchant ships and some of the sailors. And immediately such an odor was wafted up to them that they seemed to be standing in Paradise. And not to them alone was the odor vouchsafed, but it pervaded even to the harbor to those in the ships. Immediately then, illuminated by the perfumes they recognized that it was unquestionably within their power to carry off the remains of the saint. After this, Matthew, putting aside all fear from his heart, fully clothed as he was, descended into the sacred and holy tomb. And while he was descending within, and dipping his hands into the sacred oil, he beheld the venerable remains glowing like coals of fire, fragrant above all fragrance. And taking them in his hand he kissed them and caressed them endlessly. And he handed them over to the two aforementioned priests. From these portents it was clear to see that Bishop of Christ was bestowing himself on the Italians. <|>
“(7) The monks who were on watch, when they saw what had happened, began to wail aloud and cry: "He and he alone was our Father up to now, and never did he allow anyone to do such things. O how great and inconsolable an affliction has overtaken us!" And turning to the saint, they wailed in lamentation and spoke: "Our Lord and most hooly father, why are you leaving us orphaned of your protection in such dlstress and necessity, and have become well disposed to strangers and wayfarers, while to us your servants from our earliest youth, you have shown yourself unhearing and unpitying? Is it true that you have reckoned as nothing the ministrations of our fathers and of ourselves, and instead of our being under the protection of your venerable glory, are you withdrawing from us such intercessions and favors? Alas for our life, in what darkness you are leaving us and the See of Lycia! Alas, why did you not allow us to be given to death, rather than be separated from you! Our benign Father, thou have become embittered, and, as we see, you have made of thy beloved sons objects of hate. Alas for our possession! How we shall lament when we see our children and all our goods rendered nought from henceforth! To whom shall we flee? Who will render us justice from our enemies? Who will stand patron over our souls? <|>
“(8) At this juncture, Matthew, taking up the sacred remains, held them carefully. One of the two priests, Grimaldus by name, taking them as they were and placing them in his cloak, took possession of them with clear conscience. But his fellow sailors, wishing to carry off a certain sacred and pleasing ikon which was very old and depicted this most reverend and holy Father, were unable to accomplish this, in order that they might not be ignorant of this also, that the servant of Christ in no wise wished to leave his sanctuary entirely without a share of his holy blessing. And when the men had been assembled and had taken up their arms, they, together with the priest bearing the sacred remains on his shoulders, repaired to their ships, praising the ineffable providence and benevolence and power of God. When those who were in the boats heard the great force of their hymn which they were singing to Christ the Saviour concerning this bishop, with inexpressible joy they accosted and received their fellow sailors, and adding their own praise to theirs, they lauded their Lord, the giver of crowns, who so crowned and glorified those who had placed their hope in him, and who, moreover, pronounced themselves unworthy to have attained to such a great and divine blessing. <|>
“(9) Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the city learned of all that had happened from the monks who had been set free. Therefore they proceeded in a body, a multitude of men and women, to the wharves, all of them filled and heavy with affliction. And they wept for themselves and their children, that they had been left bereft of so great a blessing. Then they addressed the men of Bari: "Who are you and from what land, and have you dared to bring such a calamity upon our See? Whence has come such a conception and such an affront to us, that you have laid hands on our inspired Father who has been with us for so long a time, from the time of the great, Christ―loving Emperor Constantine, who founded the capital city, so that from time until now no Emperor or overlord was able to do this? Truly our lord and Father Nicholas has thought you worthy of great gifts: of leaving us orphans and journeying forth with you." And unable to completely master their incumbent affliction, entering the sea, they cast themselves in, lamenting, taking hold of the rudders and oars of the ships. Then they added tears upon tears and wailing and unassuageable lamentation to their groans, saying: "Give us our patron and our champion, who with all consideration protected us from our enemies visible and invisible. And if we are entirely unworthv, do not leave us without a share, of at least some small portion of him." <|>
“(10) While they were making lament in such and similar wise, immediately the men of Bari answered most kindly, saying: "Realize, brothers. that we are Christians, and that the saint appeared to us in a vision and bade us disembark here and carry away his venerable remains. Andn brethren, why do you stand frustrated and desolate over him'? Behold, you yourselves have said, many generations have passed under the protection of the saint, and you and your fathers have possessed his healings and blessings. But now his will is to give light to the western world, departing from hence. And now in place of these remains there is for you his venerable and all―holy tomb whence wells forth the all―holy oil, and likewise his venerable ikon which works great wonders. For reasonably and justly does it happen that our preeminent city of Bari should possess so great a Father and protector". Thus did the men in the ships make answer to the people. But the citizens of Myra, seeing on board one of the monks of the sacred church. running around him with feeling, struck at him sharply. saying: "You have taken money to betray our protector and champion". <|>
Recovery of the Relics of St. Nicholas in Bari
Friar Gerardo Cioffari Op wrote in “Narration of the recovery of the relics of Our holy Father and Wonder-Worker Nicholas” the 11th century: “(11) The men of Bari, then, having taken up the venerable and s holy remains of our blessed and inspired Father, placed them with great reverence in a very small wooden chest. Then at sunset, when a favorable breeze had arisen, upon a calm sea they set forth on their long voyage, and that night they drew nigh to a place called Caccabus (modern Kekowa). Then they arrived at Majesta (probably the island Meis). Then they went far out to sea and were hindered by adverse winds; in front of them lay the north as far as Patara, where the Blessed had received his birth. Having arrived at that city mid a great storm, they concluded that the saint did not want to journey with them and was not allowing them to sail further. Nevertheless, they forced their way twenty―four miles further, and then, unable to advance more, having met up with a great calm, they sailed back to the harbor of Perdicca. When they had reached the shore they found the sea at rest, and the wind which had been adverse when they were sailing now favorable to them. And they said to one another: "See that none of us has wished to steal some part of the venerable relics, but let each one furnish scrupulously what he has taken." The sailors, moreover who had decided to bind themselves with fearful oaths not to keep any of the remains of the saint, immediately supplemented the word with deed. Each of them who had taken some of the sacred remains, made open confession and after having proffered and placed their portions with the rest of the remains, were proven clearly to have kept their oaths. From such an event who would doubt that this was inspired by the Lord, who gave them courage, and would not fulfill their desires until they had laid the relics they had taken beside the rest? Thus it can be known that our saint and protector himself did not wish that any portion should ever be separated from his remains. O most wonderful and marvelous God who didst not reveal this by any voice of angel nor sacred visions or apparitions to the sailors, but through mute testimony thou didst think good to reveal these things, and thou wast desirous to hinder them until they should place the relics together with the rest! [Source: "The Translation of Saint Nicholas: An anonymous Greek account of the transfer of the Body of Saint Nicholas from Myra to Lycia to Bari in Italy", translated by J. McGinley and H. Mursurillo, Bolletino di S, Nicola, N. 10, Studi e testi, Bari: October 1980), 3-17] <|>
“(12) After this happened and the winds finally died down and the sea was calm, they left the shore and sailed to the harbor of Marcianus (Makri, ancient Telmessos) with joy and a fair breeze. When when they had crossed the Gulf of Trachea (Gulf of Symi? Between the Island of Symi southwards to Rhodes), one of the sailors whose name was Disigius thought that the saint had appeared to him in his sleep and said: "Be not disturbed in any event, for I shall be with you. Know then, that after the completion of twenty days we shall be together in the city of Bari." Disigius, rising from sleep, narrated what he had seen to his fellow sailors. And they, hearing this, were filled with unspeakable joy and disembarked on the island of Ceresanus (unknown: ed.). There, after taking supplies on board and drinking of the very excellent water that abounded in the place, and storing some on their ships, they sailed away and covered five hundred miles (all references to "miles" are Roman miles, 1680 yards: trans.) in two days and one night. Disembarking then on the island of Melos, they refreshed themselves there and at daybreak resumed their journey. <|>
“(13) After this, I know not how, a portent was made manifest to them, as they afterwards narrated. For when they were at sea, a little gull came and perched on the starboard side, where the venerable remains reposed, and most gently and tamely, as thought it had been fostered by them, alighted on the hands of the captain Nicholas; and then flitting from his hands, it perched upon the venerable remains, and giving forth its Iyric song, it caressed the remains tenderly. Ah, my beloved brothers, how great is the power and wisdom of our Christ which is manifested not only through the voices of men, but is also sung significantly by mute creatures and is rendered reverence by them, here mid the venerable remains of our holy Father Nicholas; for I in truth, its voice was a hymn and the approach of its beak was an obeisance! <|>
“It then flew away, circling to each one of the ships, in the sight of all the sailors, and rendering them some blessing by its chirping, in that there was with them our thrice―blessed and inspired Father. And thus, having rendered such service, it straightway flew away, never to be seen again by them. <|>
“(14) Afterwards they disembarked on the island of Staphnos (Staphnu or Bonapolla; very probably the modern Kaimeni: ed.) and then on the island of Geraca. Sailing from there, they crossed the Monobasia (Modern Monemvasia "Epidaurus Limera": ed.) and they arrived at Methone (Modern Modon: ed.), where they bought supplies, and from there they sped to the island of Sykia. After refreshing themselves there a while, they quickly set sail and ― O the wonder of it, I am awestruck to tell of it ― they did not land at any other place or replenish themselves in any way until they arrived at the divinely-guarded city of Bari itself! Then, arriving at the harbor of St. George the great martyr, about four miles from the city they set about to fashion a most beautiful casket in order to place therein the venerable remains. And this they did. <|>
“(15) And when they had come into the city harbor and had placed the sacred remains in the casket and were welcomed joyously bv the townsmen and their fellow citizens, they narrated to them how they had acquired the sacred remains of our holy father Saint Nicholas. And when those present had heard this and had announced the good tidings to the city, the inhabitants of Bari on hearing them ran with one accord to see the endless throng at the harbor on the occasion of such a welcome and unhoped for spectacle. And the sacred and holy ministers of the archdiocese and the clergy of the other churches, garbed in their holy vestments and singing a heavenly hymn, departed straightway for the harbor to receive the holy remains of the Blessed. Then those on the ships addressed their fellow citizens: "Let it be known to you, our brothers, that when we took the holy remains from Myra, we joined in a vow to build a magnificent altar for our holy Father, where the royal praetorium of our camp is.  We ask you, therefore, to be in accord with us in the decision and promise which we have made" <|>
“(16) And when the men of Bari heard this, some replied: "No, do not put him there, but place the remains in the Cathedral." But others said: "It is well to do this". While they were discussing the question with one another, the sailors bade Elias, abbot of the monastery of St. Benedict, to board their ships. And he did so and paid reverence to the holy remains, and said to the men on the ships: "Behold, as you see, I have come to you insisting that you give me the venerable remains, until the townspeople have reached an agreement, and then I will return them to you safe and sound." They all acceded to his request straightway. And then the most august heralds of the city proclaimed a hymn in honor of the saint most fitting for the occasion and harmonious. And carrying the casket from the ships, they placed it within the altar of St. Benedict, while the sailors carefully guarded the monastery gates lest they be deprived of the holy relics by some stratagem. <|>
“(17) And immediately word was sent to the Archbishop Ursus  who at that time governed the See of Bari, to come with haste. For several days previous he had been in the camp at Canusium (modern Canosa: ed.). But nevertheless, when he was informed and heard the story, he went to Bari with all speed, praising the Lord for what had happened. Then, entering the city, he went straight to the holy and sacred remains, both to pay them homage, and also to take possession of them with all zeal. And when the sailors and the townsmen had learned this, they rushed with one accord to defend the holy remains. And the Archbishop, therefore, when he had heard them, was vexed and did not know what to do. And the men of Bari, as was fitting, sent prudent and wise men to him, saying: "Do not do this, Father but rather make haste to fulfill the will of your spiritual children." But he not being moved to assent to their words, but have devised and expedited a vicious scheme with his cohorts, planned to carry off the venerable remains by force. And when the ambassadors returned with empty hands and had made clear to all the archbishop's plan, they seized arms and began to sound the war cry. In the fighting that ensued there fell two of the archbishop's men and one of the townspeople, whose souls entered the halls of the just. <|>
“(18) The large crowd of citizens immediately bore off the venerable remains from the monastery of St. Benedict, singing "Kyrie eleison" and other suitable and sacred hymns. And taking the remains from the gate of the harbor, they brought them to the royal praetorium and placed them in the altar of St. Eustratius the great martyr.  And this altar, together with other sacred altars that were in the praetorium, was razed to the ground, in order to erect there the holy and sacred altar of our inspired Father Nicholas, while the aforementioned leader addressed them: ' The holy archbishop Nicholas himself must be guarded by all these sacred churches in our whole city. And lest anyone rob his holy remains, let them be guarded carefully by us under arms, until his venerable and sacred altar be finished." <|>
“(19) Be it known therefore that St. Nicholas was translated from Myra in Lycia eleven days before the Kalends of May and entered Bari on May 9 at the first evening of watch. “(20) Now I should like to tell you, beloved, how the folk, running from the four corners of the city, gathered in his church, suffering from various sicknesses. And there were cured that night and the following morning forty―seven men, women and children. And one of these was called Adralestus a man of noble and prominent family of the city of Bari, a victim of a terrible disease; and another was Armenius who was lame on his left side; and there were three epileptics, one deaf-mute, two with crippled arms, two lepers, three paralytics (muoparetoi'?: Trans.): there was also a certain Pisanus whose hands and feet were distorted. And many others were cured of whom I cannot give a detailed account. On the third day the people came in droves from all the environs to honor the sacred remains, as we have said. Among them seven men were cured up until the fourth watch of the day. And from the fourth watch till sunset fourteen others were cured. And on the fourth day twenty-nine others who were suffering dreadfully were cured. And not only those who suffered bodily ills obtained their health, but very many others who enjoyed bodily integrity, received conversion and salvation of soul, of whom I am unable to give a written account . <|>
“(21) And on the fifth day our loyal patron Nicholas appeared in a vision to a certain monk whose name was Mark, of the monastery of Celius, bidding him to go to Bari and tell the people not to lose heart concerning the occurrence of miracles, ';For by the will of God I am leaving the Roman world; but whither I go. I go on a visit, but here I shall dwell forever". But as another proof that they might know, the following event occurred. Before sunrise that day a man was cured who was tormented by an evil and deaf and dumb spirit! On the sixth day the Archbishop of Bari with four other Bishops of neighboring cities, together with their retinues of clergy and lay and a huge throng all came to reverence the saint, amid psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, justly honoring him who was honored and glorified by the Holy Trinity, and who in their last trials restores as citizens of heaven and equals of angels his servants and ministers. <|>
“(22) And we, after plaiting a crown of praises for the saint, shall f bring this discourse to an end. Hail, O loyal patron and intercessor for Christians! Hail, protector in perils and surest succor of sailors! Hail! helper of those who invoke thee and provider of those who importune thee for favors! Hail, peer of angels and companion of the holy archbishops. Hail, shield of orphans and provider of widows! Hail, O thou, who of old didst render fragrant Myra with the blossoms of thy miracles, and dost now adorn Bari with the brilliant gleams of thy wonders! Hail, O thou who hast enriched the land of Italy with thy lightning flashes and dispellest the gloom of sickness and possession with the brightness of thy prodigies! Hail, and truly hail. since thou art the champion most loyal in trust and the most speedy intercessor of all who call on thee! Since thou hast access to the holy and divine Trinity, deign to guide us in the way of virtue, and protecting us unscathed and unharmed from the darts and snares of the enemy and overthrowing all the arrogance and the overweening fraud of our visible enemies, may thou grant us to accomplish this life without deception, leading us to that most happy life hereafter, where the jubilant dwell in Christ Jesus our Lord. Wherefore to Him be all glory, honor, adoration with His eternal Father and the all―holy, good and vivifying Spirit, now and forever. Amen. <|>
More Than a Million Russians Check Out Rib of Saint Nicholas
David Filipov wrote in the Washington Post: “They have come to pray for the health of loved ones. They have come to ask for help to pass a tough exam or just to get by in hard times. But mostly, they have come to be part of a once-in-a-millennium spiritual event: Saint Nicholas has come to town. Since relics of Russia’s most beloved saint were brought to Moscow on May 21, more than a million people have waited in line as long as 10 hours to spend just an instant at the gilded ark that holds one of his ribs. Lines to see the saint Russians call “the miracle worker” have stretched up to five miles from the giant, onion-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral, a reconstruction of a cathedral demolished by the Soviets in 1931. [Source: David Filipov, Washington Post, June 29, 2017]
Some waited to ask for a miracle from Saint Nicholas.“It’s important to be close to the grace of Saint Nicholas,” said Denis Knyazyev, 32, who drove four hours from his home west of Moscow to stand in line for Saint Nicholas last week. “All saints are special, but this is the one most dear to us.” What they see at the ark is an icon of Saint Nicholas, under a panel of bulletproof glass, with a crescent-shaped opening in the middle through which a bone is visible. As priests and burly security guards look on, a choir chants a harmonious prayer that echoes through the cavernous, ornate cathedral. But the music is drowned out by the stentorian instructions of volunteers in ―fluorescent-green vests.
They warn worshipers to cross themselves before they reach the ark and to have their prayers ready, to avoid backing up the line. As soon as the faithful bend to kiss the glass, a volunteer grabs them by the shoulders and nudges them, usually lightly, toward the exit. Those who linger get a special shove and an order to move on. Another volunteer wipes the glass with a cloth. But if this brusque treatment bothered anyone, it did not show. People coming out of the cathedral on a recent Friday expressed something resembling a combination of bliss over what they had seen and relief that they had survived the ordeal. “We were so afraid we wouldn’t make it,” a pregnant woman said through tears, as her husband comforted her.
1905 Puck CoverDanila, a 14-year-old Muscovite, said he had “a magical feeling.” His mother added that “it was like God had heard me.” Saint Nicholas is special, said Maria Korovina, head of the Orthodox Church’s media center for special events, because of the role he plays in Russians’ lives — and the way these relics got here. “For 930 years, no one has seen them,” she said. “This is as though Saint Nicholas himself has come to Moscow.”
The decision to remove a rib and send it to Russia was a result of a historic meeting last year between Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill — the first such encounter since the 11th-century Great Schism that divided Christianity. On a recent Sunday evening, as the line meandered along a fenced-off sidewalk on the Moscow River embankment, through well-guarded police checkpoints and past well-stocked food ―kiosks and portable toilets, people wrote down prayers for the health of their loved ones as they whiled away the hours. Some fretted over whether they would get in before the cathedral closed for the night. But there was no need to pray for a miracle. The doors stay open until the last worshiper in line has made it inside.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Symbols of Catholicism by Dom Robert Le Gall, Abbot of Kergonan (Barnes & Noble, 2000); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Newsweek, Time and National Geographic articles about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018