Archaeologists have announced the discovery of the burial place of St Nicholas in the Church of St. Nicholas, located in Turkey’s Antalya province.
Saint Nicholas was an early Christian bishop of Greek descent from the maritime city of Myra in Asia Minor during the time of the Roman Empire. Saint Nicholas had many miracles attributed to his intercession but is also known for his generous practice of gift-giving which gave rise to the traditional concept of Santa Claus and Sinterklaas.
In one of the earliest attested accounts of his life, he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through their window. Other early stories tell of him calming a storm at sea, saving three innocent soldiers from wrongful execution, and chopping down a tree possessed by a demon. Another famous late legend tells how he resurrected three children, who had been murdered and pickled in brine by a butcher planning to sell them as pork during a famine.
Centuries after his death, the Byzantine Emperor, Theodosius II, ordered the construction of the St. Nicholas Church over the site where Saint Nicholas had served as bishop. His body was exhumed and reburied in the church, but by the 11th century AD, his remains were removed and enshrined as sacred relics in the Basilica di San Nicola located in Bari, Southern Italy. During the First Crusade, Venetian sailors removed most of his remains once again and transported them to Venice, where they were deposited in the San Nicolò al Lido monastery basilica.
In 1953, an inspection of bone fragments from both Bari and Venice determined that they came from the same individual, although authenticity to determine whether they belonged to Saint Nicholas is inconclusive.
According to Osman Eravşar, chairman of the Antalya Cultural Heritage Preservation Regional Board, the tomb and sarcophagus of Saint Nicholas was located at the base of a fresco depicting Jesus, where the team have excavated the original church foundations and period mosaic flooring from the 4th century AD.
New evidence suggests that the ecclesiastical building’s similarity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem further supports their theory, as both share similar architectural features such as an unfinished dome on top to link St. Nicholas with the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and ascension into the sky.
Eravşar told DHA that “his sarcophagus must have been placed in a special place, and that is the part with three apses covered with a dome. There we have discovered the fresco depicting the scene where Jesus is holding a Bible in his left hand and making the sign of blessing with his right hand.” The researchers also found a marble floor tile with the Greek words for “as grace” which could have been a marker to indicate his exact grave.
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