Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop
13th century Russian icon of St. Nicholas
Today is the feast of the great St. Nicholas, Bishop and Confessor. St. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra (now Demre), in Asia Minor (now Turkey), who died in the year of Our Lord, 342.
Despite what has been done to disfigure who St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, was, we can certainly recall this great saint on his feast, and seek the intercession of this patron saint of children. Indeed, in historical fact, he both existed, and was a great wonderworker -- as he is today.
A rather Roman looking image of St. Nicholas
It is said that, after returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, St. Nicholas was made bishop of Myra. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian, and released with the rise of the Emperor Constantine I.
Perhaps the origin of the idea of St. Nicholas bringing gifts down the chimney is this story from the account of the Life of St. Nicholas in the Golden Legend:
"And it was so that one, his neighbour, had then three daughters, virgins, and he was a nobleman: but for the poverty of them together, they were constrained, and in very purpose to abandon them to the sin of lechery, so that by the gain and winning of their infamy they might be sustained. And when the holy man Nicholas knew hereof he had great horror of this villainy, and threw by night secretly into the house of the man a mass of gold wrapped in a cloth. And when the man arose in the morning, he found this mass of gold, and rendered to God therefor great thankings, and therewith he married his oldest daughter.
And a little while after this holy servant of God threw in another mass of gold, which the man found, and thanked God, and purposed to wake, for to know him that so had aided him in his poverty. And after a few days Nicholas doubled the mass of gold, and cast it into the house of this man. He awoke by the sound of the gold, and followed Nicholas, which fled from him, and he said to him: Sir, flee not away so but that I may see and know thee.
Then he ran after him more hastily, and knew that it was Nicholas; and anon he kneeled down, and would have kissed his feet, but the holy man would not, but required him not to tell nor discover this thing as long as he lived."
You can read the entire passage here [This is the Fordham University link, but it seems to be, along with the various on-line sourcebooks of that institution, a dead link right now.]: Medieval Sourcebook: The Golden Legend: St. Nicholas
The Basilica of San Nicola in Bari, Italy.
In 1087AD, the major relics of St. Nicholas were transferred to Italy and the city of Bari, where they rest today. It seems that they didn't get everything, for later, in the First Crusade, Venetian sailors gathered what remained and brought them to Venice, where those are now housed. It seems recent scientific research has confirmed that both Bari and Venice have portions of the same skeleton, confirming the 11th century account: St. Nicholas Center: Bones of St. Nicholas in the Lido
Here is a link to the Church in Bari, Italy, where the major tomb of St. Nicholas is found today -- it is from this tomb that the miraculous "manna" continues to pour forth:
Basilica of St. Nicholas, Bari, Italy
Church of San Nicolo al Lido in Venice, Italy.
A splendid chart that shows where the relics of St. Nicholas ended up -- the bones colored black are the more famous, and rest in Bari, Apulia, Itay, while the white are in Venice.
Further, here is a link to some customs associated with this great feast day:
Fisheaters: Feast of St. Nicholas
For more on St. Nicholas, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Nicholas
Catholic Saints Info: St. Nicholas
Finally, a page dedicated to promoting knowledge of the saint: St. Nicholas Center