St Nicholas of Myra was also known as Saint Nick, Nikolaos the Wonderworker, Santa Claus, or Nicholas of Bari.
He was the Bishop of Myra, Lycia (in modern-day Turkey).
He was born around 270 AD in Patara, Lycia, Turkey, and died in 346 AD in Myra, Lycia, (in modern-day Demre, Antalya, Turkiye).
We celebrate his feast day on December 6 every year in the Catholic Church.
|St Nicholas of Myra Biography
|Date of Birth
|Place of Birth
|Patara, Lycia, Turkey
|Bishop of Myra
|Place of Work
|Date of Death
|Place of Death
|Myra, Lycia, Turkiye
|Patron Saint of
St Nicholas of Myra’s Life History
St. Nicholas of Myra was born in approximately 270 AD in Myra, Lycia, which is located in present-day Demre, Turkey.
He is also known as Nicholas of Bari, Nicholas the Wonderworker, and Saint Nick, and he served as a bishop in Myra, Asia Minor, in what is now modern-day Turkey.
His life is the source of the Santa Claus legend. By the sixth century, his tomb had gained widespread reverence due to reports of numerous miracles attributed to his intercession.
In the eleventh century, his body was transferred to Bari, Italy, where it remains today. It’s worth noting that to this day, his bodily remains release a liquid, initially thought to be oil but now believed to be water.
This liquid is collected, mixed with holy water, and distributed to the faithful in bottles every May 9, the day his remains arrived in Bari, Italy.
This substance is commonly known as the “Manna of Saint Nicholas” and is believed to possess miraculous healing power.
For these reasons, in addition to his association with the mythical figure of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas remains a highly revered saint within the Church.
St. Nicholas was born into a prosperous and devout Christian family. Tragically, when he was young, both of his parents succumbed to an epidemic, leaving him an orphan and the inheritor of his family’s wealth.
Being aware of the biblical guidance given by Jesus to the wealthy young man, “sell what you have and give to the poor,” Nicholas followed this advice diligently.
He sold his inheritance and distributed the proceeds to those who were in need. Some versions of his life story suggest that his uncle, who served as the Bishop of Patara, ordained Nicholas as a priest.
A popular legend recounts that among the beneficiaries of his generosity were three young women whose father was unable to afford dowries for their marriages.
Their prospects were grim, potentially leading them to consider prostitution as a means of survival. Upon learning of this dire situation, Nicholas took action by tossing a bag of gold through their window, which the father used as a dowry for his eldest daughter.
He repeated this act a second time for the second daughter’s wedding. As the father anxiously awaited a third bag of money after the second wedding, Nicholas complied by throwing the third bag through the window, prompting the father to express his gratitude.
Nicholas, however, requested that this act remain a secret. In one version of the story, it is told that each night, the bag of gold miraculously landed in stockings that were hung by the fireplace to dry, leading to the Christmas tradition of placing stockings out for Saint Nick, who fills them in secret.
The way Nicholas ascended to the position of a bishop remains shrouded in mystery. According to one account, shortly after Father Nicholas returned from the Holy Land, the bishop of Myra passed away.
In response, the clergy of Myra convened to select a new bishop. During their deliberations, they were divinely inspired to choose the first priest to enter the church the following morning.
Since Father Nicholas had spent the entire night in prayer, he happened to be the first person in the church and was consequently appointed as the bishop.
St. Nicholas is honored as the patron saint of sailors, a designation that can be attributed to the tale of his intervention during his lifetime.
According to the legend, St. Nicholas appeared to distressed sailors who called upon him for help when they were caught in a storm off the coast of Lycia. His presence led them safely to a harbor.
Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas, following a widespread Eastern tradition, carried a “star of St. Nicholas” and exchanged good voyage wishes with the phrase “May St. Nicholas hold the tiller.”
While serving as the Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas lived during a period of severe persecution in the Roman Empire under Emperor Diocletian.
In the year 303, Emperor Diocletian, along with Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius, who together formed a tetrarchy governing the entire Roman Empire, issued a series of decrees that banned Christianity.
These edicts imposed severe punishments, including torture and death, on those practicing the Christian faith. This period marked the final and most brutal Christian persecution within the Roman Empire.
Sometime between 303 and 306, Bishop Nicholas was among those who were arrested and subjected to torture.
In 305, Emperor Diocletian stepped down from the throne, and in 306, Caesar Constantius died. Constantius’ son, Constantine, succeeded him as Caesar and ordered the release of Bishop Nicholas.
In 312, Constantine reportedly experienced a vision of the Cross bearing the words, “In this sign, you will conquer.” Subsequently, in 313, he and his co-emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, which granted religious tolerance to Christians.
An early roster of bishops who participated in the 325 Council of Nicaea features Bishop Nicholas. This council was convened to address the Arian heresy.
According to certain legends, Bishop Nicholas was deeply disturbed by the Arians present at the council to the extent that he even reportedly slapped one of them in the face. Some versions of the story claim that the heretic he struck was none other than Arius himself.
For this action, he was said to have been imprisoned but subsequently released through the intervention of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The act of the slap has become a common theme in sacred art, including Orthodox iconography.
Numerous additional tales and legends surround Saint Nicholas. It is said that he secured the release of individuals who had been unfairly sentenced to death, even going as far as to prevent the executioner from carrying out the sentence.
In a time of famine, a malevolent butcher committed a heinous act by killing three children and preserving their remains to sell as ham. Bishop Nicholas intervened and miraculously brought the pickled children back to life.
While such a narrative may be startling to modern audiences, it was widely recounted in the Middle Ages. Depictions of this miracle can be found in sacred art and contributed to the perception of Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of children.
Another story relates to a different period of famine when a ship carrying wheat for the emperor arrived in Myra. Bishop Nicholas persuaded the sailors to provide him with enough wheat to sustain the local populace for two years, assuring them that the emperor would still receive the full shipment.
When the trusting sailors delivered the remaining wheat to the emperor, it miraculously weighed the same as when it was loaded, despite a substantial portion of it having been distributed to the people of Myra.
On another occasion, St. Nicholas’ influence was observed when three imperial officers were en route to their duties in Phrygia. Upon their return to Constantinople, the prefect Ablavius, driven by jealousy, falsely accused them, leading to their imprisonment and a death sentence ordered by Emperor Constantine.
Upon learning of their imminent execution, the officers recalled the powerful sense of justice they had witnessed in the Bishop of Myra and prayed to God for their salvation through his intercession.
That very night, St. Nicholas appeared in a dream to both Constantine and Ablavius, compelling them with warnings to release the three innocent men. The following morning, the Emperor and the prefect compared their experiences and summoned the condemned individuals for questioning.
Upon discovering that they had invoked the name of Nicholas of Myra, who had appeared to him, Constantine pardoned them and sent them to the bishop.
He included a letter, requesting not to be threatened any further but instead urged St. Nicholas to pray for world peace.
This miracle involving St. Nicholas has long been renowned, and during the era of St. Methodius, it was the most well-known aspect of his life.
St. Nicholas managed to persuade certain thieves to give back the items they had stolen. This accounts for his association with safeguarding against theft and robbery and his role as their patron. His purpose is not to assist in theft but to encourage those involved to repent and reform. Historically, thieves have even been referred to as Saint Nicholas’ followers or Knights of Saint Nicholas.
Bishop Nicholas died around 346 AD, although the exact year of his death may vary in different sources. He was canonized due to widespread acclaim, and his feast day became a time for the faithful to engage in acts of charity, especially towards children, a tradition that endures today.
In the year 1054, a division occurred within the Catholic Church, leading to the separation of the Eastern and Western branches, resulting in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This division left the remains of Saint Nicholas under the custody of the Orthodox Church.
In 1071, Myra, which was controlled by the Orthodox Church, was captured by the Seljuk Turks. In 1087, out of concern that the Turks might mistreat the revered saint’s relics, Catholic Italian sailors from Bari took a portion of Saint Nicholas’s remains from his tomb in Myra and transported them to Bari, Italy.
Subsequently, a church in honor of the saint was constructed in Bari under the Pope’s supervision. This relocation significantly heightened the saint’s popularity in Europe, and Bari became one of the most frequented pilgrimage destinations.
Following the Reformation, devotion to Saint Nicholas waned in all the Protestant nations of Europe, with the exception of Holland, where his legacy continued as Sinterklaas (a Dutch variation of Saint Nicholas).
Dutch settlers brought this tradition with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the 17th century, and it was embraced by the English-speaking majority in the American colonies under the name Santa Claus.
His image as a kind, elderly man merged with ancient Nordic folktales of a magician who rewarded well-behaved children with gifts and disciplined naughty children.
This fusion gave rise to the iconic figure of Santa Claus in the United States during the 19th century, and he has since been associated with the gift-giving celebration of Christmas.
In various forms, Saint Nicholas underwent a similar transformation into a benevolent gift-giver in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, and other northern European nations. In the United Kingdom, Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas.
St. Nicholas is widely revered in Russia, where he holds a significant place in the nation’s religious devotion.
Alongside St Andrew the Apostle, he is recognized as the patron saint of the country. The Russian Orthodox Church even commemorates the feast of his translation of relics.
So many Russian pilgrims traveled to Bari before the revolution that their government provided support for the establishment of a church, hospital, and hospice in the area.
St Nicholas is the Patron Saint of
- Falsely accused
- Repentant thieves
- Unmarried people
- Prilep, Macedonia
- Students in various cities and countries around Europe
- Russian Navy
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