Do you believe in Santa Claus?
Archaeologists in Turkey believe they may have found the true tomb of Hágios Nikólaos, better known in the west as Saint Nicholas, the fourth-century saint famous for his charity work and gift-giving, that eventually led to the modern-day legend of Santa Claus. Scholars have been questioning the validity of the remains interred in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy, that are traditionally attributed to Nicholas, based on documentation retrieved from the region. Now, recent archaeological surveys have revealed an intact temple and burial site underneath Saint Nicholas Church in Antalya, Turkey, that may hold Saint Nicholas’ true remains.
"We have obtained very good results but the real work starts now," explains Cemil Karabayram, Antalya’s director of surveying and monuments. "We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of Saint Nicholas."
Following his death in 343 AD, Nicholas’ remains were interred in his hometown of Myra, in what is now modern-day town of Demre, Turkey, but were clandestinely transferred in 1087 to the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy.
But the remains that were moved may have belonged to a priest that lived in Myra, rather that that of Nicholas himself, according to documents that were uncovered in the area. The switch may have occurred after the original Saint Nicholas Church in Demre was rebuilt, following a fire.
Accessing the site will be difficult, however: the grounds above the temple are home to numerous stone mosaics and reliefs that will have to be protected during the excavation, but the efforts is expected to answer the question of whether or not this is the final resting place of Saint Nicholas.
In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas’ penchant for gift-giving gave rise to the legend of Sinterklaas, later becoming "Santa Claus" after the figure was popularized by Dutch immigrants in the U.S., and became associated with Christmas as the concepts of Santa Claus and the English tradition of Father Christmas were merged.
- Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of Russian merchants. Fresco by Dionisius from the Ferapontov Monastery.
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