Saint Nicholas

LIJEVI DUBROVCAK, CROATIA – SEPTEMBER 26, 2011: Saint Nicholas, altarpiece on the main altar in the church of the Saint Nicholas in Lijevi Dubrovcak, Croatia, zatletic/

Date of Birth: 15 March, 270 (traditionally)

Place of Birth: Patara, Lycia et Pamphylia, Roman Empire (now near Gelemiş, Antalya Province, Turkey)

Date of Death: 6 December, 343 (traditionally; disputed)

Place of Death: Myra, Diocese of Asia, Roman Empire (now Demre, Antalya Province, Turkey)

Ethnicity: Anatolian Greek

Saint Nicholas, by title Bishop of Myra, Defender of Orthodoxy, and Holy Hierarch, also known as Nicholas of Bari, Nicholas the Wonderworker; or, eventually and in popular retellings, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, “Saint Nick,” and Sinterklaas, among many others, was a bishop of of the early Christian era. In Christian denominations that venerate saints, he is the patron saint of sailors, archers, pawnbrokers, repentant thieves, merchants, children, students, brewers, and the unwed. He was particularly known for his gift-giving, done in secret and without credit.

He was born in Patara, Lycia et Pamphylia, Roman Empire, and lived in Myra, a maritime city in Asia Minor, now Demre, Antalya Province, Turkey. His parents are believed to have been Christian Greeks, and wealthy. Their names are often recorded as Theophanes/Epiphanus and Nonna/Johanna. During his younger years, he likely participated in a pilgrimage to Egypt and Syria Palaestina (now Israel). He became Bishop of Myra after his return. Saint Nicholas was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian, the last and most severe persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire; and then released upon the ascent of Christian emperor Constantine.

Less than 200 years after his recorded death, Roman Emperor Theodosius II ordered the St. Nicholas Church built in Myra, on the site where Saint Nicholas had served as bishop. What are believed to be his remains were placed in a sarcophagus there. In 1087, Italian merchants moved the remains to Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy. Other said remains were relocated to Venice.

The earliest detailed accounts of many of Saint Nicholas’ deeds and miracles were made centuries after his death, and his reputation has evolved and altered since his death; many accounts have been questioned and deemed as fanciful. Among the incidents attributed to Saint Nicholas are his rescue of three girls forced into prostitution by donating a dowry to their father, saving three innocent soldiers from execution, chopping down a demon-possessed tree, and calming a storm at sea; with one story even attributing to him the power of resurrection, having brought three murdered and pickled children back to life.

While Saint Nicholas’ most widespread depiction, Santa Claus, is often depicted in popular culture as having had an originally Scandinavian or Germanic background, as in the films Fred Claus, A Boy Called Christmas, and Violent Night; or, on the other hand, as being “not real,” neither claim is historically accurate to the original Saint Nicholas. However, on occasion, such as in the film The Christmas Chronicles 2, his background as an Anatolian Greek is correctly referenced.


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