Shocking New Discovery
Saint Nicholas lived a miraculous life, and the drama continued after his death, as his remains were allegedly stolen by Italian grave robbers. New evidence uncovered using an advanced technology by an archeological team potentially overturns everything we believed about Saint Nicholas for over a thousand years.
Nikolaos The Wonderworker
The real Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas. He was a Greek Bishop, with his original name sounding more like “Nikolaos.” As a Bishop, he was known for performing many miracles, earning him the nickname Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Although he was born in the year 270 A.D., archeologists are still finding evidence of his existence in Myra, where he lived. That city is located in modern-day Turkey, in a city called Demre. Saint Nicholas’ generosity was legendary, which eventually led to Santa Claus’ gift giving.
Origins Of Santa Claus
How did a Greek, miracle-working Saint located in Turkey become Santa Claus? It is complex, as the evolution took many steps over the generations, in many different countries. One of the things that we do know is about the origins of the name. Saint Nikolaos, when spoken about by the Dutch, was pronounced slightly wrong- missing the “Ni” of Nickolaos. This left “Saint Kolaos,” which was spelled “Sinterklaas.” When Dutch folks came to America, the spelling changed to “Santa Claus.”
Saint Nicholas died in the year 343 A.D., at age 73. For seven hundred years, his remains were in a tomb in Myra, Turkey. The tomb had become a pilgrimage site for Christians all around the world. However, in 1071, the Christian Romans, who were controlling the region, lost a battle to the invading Muslim Turks. Since the area had become tumultuous with war and dispute, the remains were allegedly taken by sailors for safekeeping, or, depending who you ask, stolen by pirates, and taken to Bari, Italy.
Although many think Saint Nicholas’ remains are in Italy, there is a lot of doubt as to where they may really be. This is because there are many plausible stories in circulation about their whereabouts. There is an account of Norman knights who claim to have stolen the remains in the twelfth century, re-burying the skeleton in a lush church in Ireland. The grave is marked by a stone slab with two knights surrounding the Saint. Detractors claim the grave is of another cleric, not of Saint Nicholas.
Another account defies both the Italian and Irish resting places of Saint Nicholas. This alleged tomb was found by total accident, on a Turkish island called Gemile, which is about twenty miles away from where Saint Nicholas was born. Researchers from Earthwatch, who are interested in researching and preserving the environment, were exploring the island for signs of ancient environmental damage. Instead, they found, among the many ancient Christian ruins there, strong evidence that suggests that Saint Nicholas had been buried there that disputes other accounts.
The Case For Gemile Island
The claim that Saint Nicholas was buried on Gemile Island is supported by the following evidence that may or may not hold up after the newest archeological discovery. Research shows Gemile used to be called Saint Nicholas Island, and his name is painted on the side of one of the rock churches. The island is close enough to his hometown to be plausible that he was buried nearby. The burial sites are organized like other Saint’s tombs, and he was the only big Saint in Turkey.
Arab Navy Attack
The official name of Saint Nicholas Island is Gemile Adasi, which means the Island of Sailors in Turkish. This sounds like a pretty generic name, but it is important, as Saint Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors (he was also the patron saint of children, which contributed to the Santa Claus image). Scholars connected all the dots, and are betting this is where Saint Nicholas was buried. However, in the 650s, Arab navy forces attacked the island, and the remains were allegedly moved.
Manna From Heaven
It is said that the remains of Saint Nicholas miraculously exude a liquid called either manna or myrrh. The liquid is clear and smells of rose water. The water is sold in ampules or bottles, as it allegedly heals those suffering from illness. Skeptics say that the water comes from the waters of the port city of Bari, and somehow seep into the sarcophagus. However, the clergy claims that the tomb is totally impermeable to water, and that the remains release manna wherever they are housed.
Church Vs. Church
There are multiple controversies surrounding the alleged remains of Saint Nicholas. The new evidence unearthed this year adds to the already existing dispute between two Italian churches. The Italian sailors who smuggled the remains eventually handed them off to the Italian clergy. However, churches in both Venice and in Bari both claim to have the remains of the Saint. Both are so strongly committed to their claim that they both named themselves after Saint Nicholas.
Scientists Step In
To settle the controversy between the Venice’s San Nicolò al Lido and Bari’s Basilica di San Nicola, scientists stepped in. They first investigated the alleged bones in 1953, and then again, using newer technology in 1992. Although they could not tell if this was actually the bones of Saint Nicholas, what they did find made both churches happy. The remains were in fact from the same person: Bari just had bigger pieces of bone, and Venice had smaller pieces. This supported the Italian thievery theory until this year.
Newest Evidence Disputes History
New evidence uncovered by an interdisciplinary team of eight fields of researchers throws all we know about Saint Nicholas into question- things that have been accepted for a thousand years without question! The team is lead by Cemil Karabayram, the head of Antalya’s Monument Authority. He, Professor Sema Doğan, and a team carried out what is known as an electronic survey. This was a way for the team to look into the floor at cemeteries and tombs, without disturbing the sanctity of the holy sites.
Excavating The Church
The team carried out electronic surveys were in the Saint Nicholas Church in Demre, Turkey (formerly known as Myra, where Nicholas lived). The church is shortlisted to potentially become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the likes of the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu. The artwork includes colorful frescos, including one showing the life story of Saint Nicholas. Previous archaeological digs found that one of the tombs had been broken into, which seems to fit nicely with the narrative of the Italian pirates taking Nicholas’ bones.
A new discovery in the Saint Nicholas Church in Demre was carried out using an electronic survey technology called ground-penetrating radar. This is sort of like a fancy metal detector that you might see at the beach. The way it works is that a radio signal is shot into the ground, and just like a sound wave, it can bounce back from the ground if it hits something, and be detected. This way, you can see if anything is under the surface without destroying it.
The electronic surveys using ground-penetrating radar found something remarkable. Beneath the Turkish church where Saint Nicholas lived, according to the data, contains a completely intact temple and burial ground. This clashes with previous reports of a vandalized sarcophagus, where it was thought that the bones of Saint Nicholas were taken to Bari, Italy. It is possible the story of the Italian merchants is still correct- it’s just that they stole the bones of a random priest, rather than of the magnanimous Saint.
Finally: Permission To Dig!
As recently as 2009, the Turkish government was working hard to get the allegedly stolen remains of Nicholas back from the Italian clergy. This new evidence shows that perhaps they are ironically still in possession of his remains. The discovery was delayed due to the fact that ground-penetrating radar is relatively modern. The main thing that prevented digging into the church were beautiful mosaics on the church floor that needed to be preserved. Now, though, with this radar evidence, archeologists will now be allowed to excavate the site.
Cemil Karabayram, the director of surveying in Antalya, is hoping to find, “the untouched body of Saint Nicholas.” Although this would be sad for all the kids who believe in a living Santa Claus, this might be something that changes where millions of Christian pilgrims go each year, changing Turkish tourism drastically. However, it will take time to dig into the ground, as “it is quite difficult to get to it as there are mosaics on the floor.” Each tile has to be scaled and removed one by one.
Nicholas’ parents were wealthy, and he was their only son. They sadly passed away from a disease that ravaged their area, and Nicholas was left to be raised by his uncle, who was a Bishop. Since Nicholas was very devout as a Christian early on, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and eventually becoming a priest, he followed the teachings of Jesus very closely. One of the things he learned was “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”
Three Bags Of Gold
The most storied accounts of Saint Nick’s generosity involves a poor man with three daughters. Unfortunately, the man did not have money for a proper dowry, let alone for three dowries. Unmarried women at the time were destined for a terrible life, so this lack of funds was quite the issue. Saint Nicholas, according to legend, anonymously threw bags of gold coins, one at a time, through the windows. The third bag was said to be thrown down the chimney, which landed in stockings that were drying.
Raising The Dead
Nikolaos the Wonderworker got his name from multiple miracles he performed. One of the most famous ones occurred after he witnessed a horrific, gory crime. While Nicholas was visiting an area of the world where there was a famine, he saw a butcher slay three young boys and put their remains in a barrel, to use them for food. The butcher’s plan was to pass the meat off as ham. Appalled, Saint Nicholas was able to resurrect the boys with just the power of prayer.
Who Is Sinterklaas
One of the most bizarre manifestations of Saint Nicholas is the Dutch Sinterklaas. All the gift giving in The Netherlands happens on the fifth of December, on Saint Nicholas Day. Sinterklass, a bearded old man in a red suit, travels each year from his home in Madrid, Spain, by steamboat, to different harbors in Holland, year after year. Instead of reindeer, he arrives with his companions, Black Peters, Moorish men. Sinterklaas rides through the town on a white horse, and puts presents in the shoes of the good children.
Santa Vs. Krampus
There are so many stories out there about Saint Nicholas, from how he looks from various visual manifestations of Santa Claus, to whom his companions may have been. Perhaps Saint Nicholas will be buried with artifacts, documents, or even with other remains that will lend a clue. For example, in Germany, Santa Claus is accompanied by Krampus, a devil that terrorizes the children who were naughty that year. Did this perhaps come from something Saint Nicholas spoke about or believed?
Another question that remains about Santa Claus is what he wears- a red suit is the most popular notion. However, the uncovering of his tomb in Turkey may speak otherwise. In British tradition, Father Christmas, their version of Santa Claus, was largely thought of as the images that came along with Charles Dickens’ book, A Christmas Carol, illustrated by John Leech. The “Ghost of Christmas Present” showed their Santa wearing green, a wreath, and drinking a mulled cider called Wassail.
Perhaps the absolute most bizarre twist on the Santa Claus mythology comes from Catalonia. The Catalan Santa is not even a person- it is a log of wood. It is called the Tió de Nadal, which literally means Uncle Christmas, but is meant to mean Christmas Log. Originally, it was literally just an inanimate piece of wood, but these days, it has been stylized to have a painted on face, making it friendlier. Children hit the log with sticks, making it defecate presents into their fireplace.
The Christmas Witch
La Befana is an Italian manifestation of Santa Claus that is extremely different from canonical pictures of jolly Santa. First off, it is a woman, who is old and rides a broom, giving her the alternative name “Christmas Witch.” On January Sixth, she goes from house to house giving good children candy, and bad children non-tasty candy, coal, or a stick. She also was a thoughtful guest- she was said to sweep up the floor before she left, symbolizing the sweeping of the year’s problems from the household.
Ho Ho Ho!
In Western culture, Santa Claus is famous for laughing by bellowing a jolly, deep “ho, ho, ho!” This is an interpretation that perhaps comes from a line from the Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, which says Santa has a round belly, which, “shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly.” This does match well sonically with Santa’s laughter. When kids send letters to Santa in Canada, the postal code cutely pays homage to this laughter: “SANTA CLAUS, NORTH POLE, H0H 0H0, CANADA.”
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as Norad, has a deadly serious job. The organization was born out of an alliance between the Canada and the United States to protect the aerospace of North America. The main facility is built into Cheyenne Mountain and can withstand a 30 megaton nuclear explosion as close as a mile away. Every year on Christmas, however, NORAD “uses” its technology to track Santa Claus as he makes his way across the world, delivering presents to children.
Keep Christ In Christmas
The mythology of Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas, who, according to the church, performed miracles including many instances of raising the dead. Puritans and Calvinists see the jolly, red-suited, bearded old man as an adulterated version of the real person. They oppose the commercialization of Santa Claus, instead preferring to, “keep Christ in Christmas.” Ironically, the Soviet Union banned Christmas traditions after the Bolshevik revolution, as they saw it as too religious. Instead, some Soviet organizations established a monthly anti-religious holiday.
Lying To Children
Logical thinkers worry that lying to children about the existence of Santa Claus makes them harbor resentment against adults and makes it harder for them to make real-world decisions. It’s not only that there are verbal lies, but, according to psychology professor Jacqueline Woolley, Santa’s “existence is affirmed by friends, books, TV and movies … [and] hard evidence: the half-eaten cookies and empty milk glasses.” Surveys show though, that kids were not angry when they found out the truth, rather they felt more mature than younger kids.
In Denmark in 1974, an activist theatre group called Solvognen dressed 75 members as Santa, and terrorized a local department store, taking items off shelves, and offering a sardonic “merry Christmas!” to the shoppers. They caused so much of a trouble mocking and criticising the blatant consumerism that they were arrested. This performance art protest was replicated in 1994, by the Cacophony Society in San Francisco, who organize Burning Man. Now, it has been corrupted to be a pub crawl where people drink heavily, all dressed as Santa.