Tuesday, December 26, 2006

St. Nicholas of Myra

Did you know Santa Claus was originally from Turkey? Well, actually, Asia Minor didn't fall under Ottoman control until a few centuries later, but Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, outside present day Demre on the south-western Mediterranean coast of Turkey. I went to visit the ruins of Myra and the church built in his honor when we lived in Antalya.

St. Nicholas is best remembered and revered for his generosity. Numerous legends abound of him giving money and aid to people in need. One of the most popular, and most tied to the Santa Claus story, is of how St. Nicholas tossed gold at night into the window of a poor family in order to give the three daughters a dowry.

At the time Myra fell under Seljuk Muslim control, raiders from Italy stole the bones of St. Nicholas from his tomb (see picture at right, note where it was broken into) in his church and brought the bones to Bari. A few small pieces that were left behind are on display in the museum in Antalya.

There are some wonderful icons at the church in Myra, but unfortunately they are not in the best preserved shape. Still, the church is largely intact, and coupled with the wonderful rock-cut tombs and theater at nearby Demre is a wonderful place to visit should you get the chance.

For more on St. Nicholas of Myra check out:
Sain Nicholas on Wikipedia
St. Nicholas of Myra, Legends and Sources

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