The real Saint Nicholas lived during the fourth century.
He was born to a rich family in the village of Patara which at
that time was Greek but now lies in modern day Turkey. It is said
that even as a child St. Nicholas fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.
His parents raised him as a devout Christian but they died when
he was quite young and left him well off. The legend of St. Nicholas
says he obeyed Jesus instruction to "sell what you own and
give the money to the poor". So he sold his belongings and
dedicated his life to God's service by helping the poor, the sick
and the suffering. As he was especially favored of children and
sailors he is known today as their patron.
At the time Saint Nicholas lived the Roman Emperor ruthlessly
persecuted the Christians. Being a devout Christian Saint Nicholas
was imprisoned. He was released when Constantine became Emperor
of the Roman Empire and he became the Archbishop of Myra. St.
Nicholas is most often pictured wearing garments exclusive to
bishops and archbishops. He was one of the approximately 250 bishops
who attended the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. However,
it should be understood that Saint Nicholas lived long before
the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church.
The St. Nicholas story was told in the 'eastern sector' long before
it was carried to western Europe. Saint Nicholas is the Patron
Saint of Russia.
There are many legends surrounding the life of Saint Nicholas
the wonderworker. One of the oldest portraying St. Nicholas
as a protector of children tells of a young boy, named Basilios,
who was snatched from his home by Arab pirates and made a slave.
His family mourned his loss for a year while Basilios served the
king who captured him as personal cup bearer. It is said when
the next St. Nicholas feast day arrived Basilios mother would
not celebrate with the townspeople but remained at home in silent
prayer. As Basilios was fulfilling his tasks he was snatched up
by St. Nicholas (in thin air) and whisked back to his family with
the king's gold cup still in his hand.
In another story a citizen of Patara lost his money and could
not support his three daughters much less give them a dowry. The
man intended to send them into prostitution. Legend of St. Nicholas
says he threw three bags of gold into the man's house on three
separate occasions; thus providing each daughter a dowry so she
could marry. Because of this story of St. Nicholas is often pictured
carrying three bags of gold.
Because of these and similar stories in St. Nicklaus' life he
became a symbol of gift-giving and generosity. Such anonymous
acts were the forerunners of traditions such as the 'secret Santa'
or simply giving out of kindness without expecting recognition
Saint Nicklaus history tells us sailors (all seafaring men) shared
a special kinship with the kind bishop. They carried stories of
'Nicklaus the Wonderworker' to ports along coasts and up rivers
throughout the world so that the Arch Bishop of Myra came to be
known everywhere. Many seaports and river stops have chapels or
churches dedicated to St. Nicklaus even in the modern world.
St Nicklaus died and was buried in his Episcopal city of Myra.
His feast day is December 6th.
A basilica was built in Constantinople during the time of the
Emperor Justinian but St. Nicholas' remains were kept in the shrine
of Myra. At one time the city of Myra fell into the hands of the
Saracens and St. Nicholas' remains were carried off to other cities.
By May 9, 1087 a new church was built and the city of Bari acquired
the precious relics of St. Nicholas under the direction of Pope
Urban II. Nicholas in Bari became one of medieval Europe's great
pilgrimage centers. St. Nicholas became known as the 'Saint in
Bari'. Bari's 'di San Nicola' remains a great tourist attraction