Archaeologists in Turkey believe they have discovered the true grave of St. Nicholas, the Christian bishop who aided the sick and the poor and is the basis for Santa Claus.
Turkish publication Daily Sabah reported Tuesday that an undisturbed gravesite discovered under a church in the Antalya province may belong to the saint. The head of the province’s monument authority said the gravesite was discovered as archaeologists performed digital surveys of the ground below St. Nicholas Church.
St. Nicholas Church is in Antalya’s Demre district, which is known as the birthplace of Santa.
“We believe this shrine has not been damaged at all, but it is quite difficult to get to it as there are mosaics on the floor,” Cemil Karabayram said, according to the Daily Sabah.
Each tile in the mosaics has to be scaled, one by one, and removed as a whole, Karabayram said. He said he is optimistic that St. Nicholas’ remains can be reached.
Newsweek reported that the claims conflict with previous narratives that placed the saint’s bones, known as his relics, in Italy. Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe that the Basilica di San Nicola, in Bari, Italy, is where his remains lie.
St. Nicholas was initially buried in 343 A.D. at a church in Demre, but his bones were taken during the Crusades in the 11th century, Newsweek said. The belief was that the relics were taken to Italy at that time.
Turkish experts now believe that the bones stolen centuries ago actually belonged to an anonymous priest, the news magazine reported.
The Hurriyet Daily News reported in February that the Demre district is undergoing renovations meant to spruce up its historic relics and locations. One of those locations is a home where St. Nicholas resided during his lifetime.
Biography.com said that St. Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. Losing both of his wealthy parents as a young man, he dedicated his life to using his inheritance to help those in need. Nicholas became a bishop in the city of Myra, now known as Demre.
The legend of his generosity, including stories of him sneaking into people’s homes and leaving them money, grew after his death. He remained a popular figure until the Reformation, which led to Protestantism and a move away from the practice of honoring saints, the website said.
“Sint Nikolaas,” or “Sinterklaas,” remained important to the Dutch, however, and Dutch immigrants brought his legend with them to America in the 1700s. The man known as Sinterklaas morphed over the years into the version of Santa Claus known today.
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