Skip to comments.Yes, There Really is a St. Nicholas !
Posted on 12/25/2001 10:01:01 AM PST by ex-Texan
Yes, there really is a St. Nicholas
by John David Powell
He has been called a saint for all seasons. His reputation has traveled around the world. He is the patron saint of children, maidens, merchants, travelers, scholars and sailors. His feast day is December 6, but he is associated with a more well-known December date. Some folks believe he comes from the land of the ice and snow; but he was born in what is now Turkey a long, long time ago.
He is St. Nicholas of Myra, the Wonderworker, not jolly old St. Nick, the fat bearded guy.
Pre-saint Nicholas was born around 300 A.D. in Asia Minor. His early life remains a mystery. It is known that as the bishop of Myra he attended the Council of Nicea in 325, the first of the great councils that established much of the Christian thought we have today. Those early years were not pleasant ones for Christians. In the days before the emperor Constantine, Christianity was an outlawed religion. As such, its followers were tortured or put to death. Nicholas was arrested and tortured, but continued his work for the church.
During those pre-Constantine days an event occurred that would link Nicholas with gift-giving and the spirit of the Christmas season. It was, and is, the custom in many countries for the father of the bride to provide a dowry to the groom. Many times a girl would go unmarried because her father was poor. Such was the case in Myra in the days of Nicholas, only instead of one girl there were three sisters in one family doomed to live as spinsters.
We are told that one night the family heard a thud in the fireplace. They were amazed to discover someone had tossed down their chimney a bag containing just the right amount of money for the oldest daughters dowry. And so she was married, and we would like to believe she and her husband lived happily ever after.
There remained, however, two sisters and a father who was still strapped for cash. Would the mysterious benefactor deliver the necessary dowries? Would they come via the chimney? The answers are yes. Twice more thuds in the hearth were the results of money down the chimney. Nicholas was given credit for these unselfish deeds, and this is why three gold balls or bags of gold are used as symbols for St. Nicholas.
Nicholas popularity grew after his death. In fact, it took on international proportions, along with scandal and intrigue. In the late 11th century, merchants from the Italian city of Bari were looking for a way to increase their tourist trade. Someone got the bright idea to make Baris local saint the cornerstone of its tourism campaign. Members of the Bari Chamber of Commerce all nodded their heads and slapped each other on the backs, congratulating themselves for coming up with such a fine plan.
There was just one snag: Bari didnt have a saint. So, the merchants frowned and wandered around aimlessly until someone else came up with the idea to utilize another towns saint. Again there were appreciative nods and congratulatory slaps. Ah, but which saint should be chosen? And how would that saint be appropriated? Vexing questions, indeed. Since the good folks of Bari felt close to St. Nicholas of Myra, they devised a plot to liberate his body from its resting place in Turkey. By hook and by crook they acquired his remains and spirited them back to Bari.
A great parade was held and there was much joy and celebration (in Bari, not Myra) and on May 9, 1087, the remains of St. Nicholas were enshrined in their new home. The good citizens of Bari eventually built a basilica in his honor. Meanwhile, the folks of Myra did not take kindly to awakening one morning to discover St. Nicholas was not among them. Emissaries were dispatched to Bari. Frank and earnest discussions began.
Nine hundred years later, the people of Myra, the church in Rome, and the Bari tourist board/saint acquisition committee are still negotiating the return of St. Nicks relics. Barians, as one can imagine, are not keen on the idea of giving up their saint (or Myras saint, depending on ones viewpoint). And besides, in 1972 the Vatican gave many of St. Nicholas other relics to the Orthodox Church in America, in what was described as an ecumenical gesture.
Despite grave-robbing and centuries of hard feelings and haggling, the good works of St. Nicholas are still remembered and cherished and serve as a model for us all, especially at this time of the year.
GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO!
A veryMerry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
BTTT on 12-06-04! Happy St. Nicholas Day!
BTTT on December 6, 2005, Optional Memorial of St. Nicholas.
December 6, 2006
The absence of the hard facts of history is not necessarily an obstacle to the popularity of saints, as the devotion to St. Nicholas shows. Both the Eastern and Western Churches honor him, and it is claimed that, after the Blessed Virgin, he is the saint most pictured by Christian artists. And yet, historically, we can pinpoint only the fact that Nicholas was the fourth-century bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor.
As with many of the saints, however, we are able to capture the relationship which Nicholas had with God through the admiration which Christians have had for himan admiration expressed in the colorful stories which have been told and retold through the centuries.
Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor mans window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saints feast. In the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Clausfurther expanding the example of generosity portrayed by this holy bishop.