Warning! This story contains details that may give nightmares to those who believe in Santa Claus!
While the look of a jolly old white-bearded man in red can be traced back to the famous 1823 “The Night Before Christmas” poem and caricatures in the 1880s by Thomas Nast, historians know that the actual title of the poem is “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and was based loosely on a real person who lived in the 4th century in what is now Turkey. Archeologists hoping to prove the existence of the legendary Nicholas have found a grave in the most
unlikely likely place – under the St. Nicholas Church in Turkey’s Antalya province. Did they also find that pony you’ve been asking Santa for?
According to Daily Sabbah, archeologists were conducting digital scans of the church’s foundation when they found indications of an underground shrine beneath a mosaic-covered floor. The shrine appears to be intact and of the type that would house the relics of the church’s namesake, who is revered by many religions as well as the inspiration for a modern-day equivalent revered by many retailers.
The 4th century Nicholas was a Greek Bishop of Myra in what is now Demre, Turkey. While his secret gift-giving was the inspiration for holiday traditions in many countries, he’s also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, repentant thieves, brewers and pawnbrokers. After he died in 343, his body was said to have been kept in his burial church in Myra until 1087 when Italian merchants allegedly smuggled it to Bari in Italy. However, it’s now believed that those remains actually belonged to a local priest, not Nicholas.
The newly discovered shrine may provide proof that the relics are still in Demre. However, getting to them won’t be easy, says Antalya’s Monument Authority Cemil Karabayram.
“We believe this shrine has not been damaged at all, but it is quite difficult to get to it as there are mosaics on the floor”
To preserve the rest of the historic church, the tiles will have to be removed as whole piece in a mold. Karabayram is using experts from eight different archeological fields to conduct the excavation.
Forgetting the Santa Claus connection for a moment, the historical significance of Nicholas is substantial. He was at the First Council of Nicae in 325 which set the direction for early Christianity. As a result, he is commemorated by Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Lutherans and a number of Reformed churches.
Nicholas was a leader and a humble caregiver who did both every day, not just once a year. That’s the story kids should hear – and not just once a year.