The tomb of Saint Nicholas, the inspiration behind Santa Claus, has been discovered after archaeologists uncovered the remains of an ancient church in Turkey that was submerged by rising sea levels in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages.
The holy figure, who lived between 270 and 343 AD, is most famous for having inherited money which he gave away to the poor and specifically the story of how he gave three girls sacks of gold to save them from a life of prostitution.
Another church was built on top of the ancient basilica’s foundations to protect the saint’s tomb, but it was only recently that archaeologists uncovered mosaic and stone floors from the earlier sanctuary beneath the one that stands today, leading them to St. Nicholas’ final resting place.
The discovery support claims that St. Nicolas lived and died in Turkey, and the team also announced that the same stone floor found hidden under layers of sediment was also made by the Christian figure, Demirören News Agency reports.
The Byzantine church (pictured) built over the old foundation was a place of worship for Orthodox Christians between the 5th and 12th centuries
Archaeologists have been working at the site for years, carefully removing the floor covering of St. Nicholas Church standing in Turkey. The removal revealed the flooring of the original church, which was built after St. Death of Nicholas in AD 343
The original foundation was discovered in 2017 when researchers found holes under the church floor using electronic surveys. Images are the original foundation that peaks from the mosaic floor of the church that stands on the site today
The Byzantine church built over the old foundation was a place of worship for Orthodox Christians between the 5th and 12th centuries and is surrounded by statues of St Nicholas.
It was also added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1982.
The ancient church was first believed to have been discovered in 2017 by researchers conducting electronic surveys under St. Nicholas Church, which revealed gaps between the floor and the ground.
The team had announced that they may have found the tomb of Saint Nicholas, but were still working to carefully remove the floors of the Byzantine church so as not to damage it.
Osman Eravsar, the head of the provincial cultural heritage preservation board in Antalya, told the Demirören news agency last week: ‘The first church was submerged with the rise of the Mediterranean Sea, and a few centuries later a new church was built on top.
“Now we have reached the remains of the first church and the floor on which Saint Nicholas stepped,” he noted. ‘The tiling of the floor of the first church which Saint Nicholas attended has been unearthed.’
The newest church (pictured) was built on top of the old foundation to protect the tomb of St Nicholas
The gray stone building is located in a depression which is several kilometers deep. Although weathered, many of the marble columns that once stood around the church are still on the grounds
St. Nicholas, who lived between 270 and 343 AD, is most famous for bequeathing money which he gave away to the poor and specifically the story of how he gave three girls bags of gold to save them from a life of prostitution
The team also announced that the same stone floor was once walked on by St. Nicholas. Pictures is the original foundation, which was recently uncovered by archaeologists working at the site in Turkey
Famous for his gift-giving and charity to the poor, St Nicholas was born in the village of Patara to wealthy parents who died in an epidemic and left their son a large fortune.
St Nicholas is the inspiration behind the story of Santa Claus
As a devout Christian, Saint Nicholas followed Jesus’ teachings to sell all worldly possessions and give to the poor – and that’s what he did.
However, these ideas are not presented in historical documents but have been shared in stories.
However, he became Bishop of Myra in the 4th century, but was soon after imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Diocletian at a time when Christians were persecuted and then released under the rule of Constantine the Great.
Records show that St. Nicholas was buried at the church built in his name.
But the exact whereabouts of his body have always been a mystery.
Scholars now believe at the time of his death in 343 AD that St Nicholas was buried in the church at Demre where he lay undisturbed until the 11th century.
Previously, it was believed that the 1,674-year-old remains were smuggled to the Italian city of Bari by merchants in the year 1087.
But Turkish archaeologists now suggest the wrong bones were removed – and those that went to Italy belonged to an anonymous priest.
He was buried in his church in Myra, and by the 6th century his shrine there had become well known.
In 1087, Italian sailors or merchants stole his alleged remains from the tomb and took them to Bari, Italy.
The team also unveiled the fresco of Jesus recently. The discovery of the tomb puts to rest the mystery of where the saint was laid to rest
The Byzantine church was also damaged and restored several times throughout the 8th and 9th centuries. It was also flooded and buried, leaving it hidden for decades until rediscovered in 1956
Nicholas’ relics remain enshrined in the 11th-century Basilica of San Nicola at Bari, although fragments have been acquired by churches around the world.
Santa Claus is based on stories about Saint Nicholas, who built a reputation for performing miracles and secretly giving gold to the needy.
The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas, which is Dutch for Saint Nicholas.
The Byzantine church was also damaged and restored several times throughout the 8th and 9th centuries, according to the cultural heritage board in Antalya.
The organization notes that it had major remodeling by Constantine IX in 1043 and Czar Nicholas I in 1862, who added a tower.
The church was also flooded by the Demre River and eventually buried until it was rediscovered in 1956 and is now a destination for many pilgrims seeking to pay homage to St. Nicholas.
THE ORIGIN OF SANTA CLAUS
St Nicholas was bishop of Myrna, in present-day Turkey, in the 4th century, and was known for his generosity towards children.
He was known for his secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of people who left them out for him.
This practice is still celebrated on his national feast day, December 6.
The bishop became popular in 6th century Europe as the Santa Claus who secretly gave presents to young children.
Young Dutch arrivals to the United States called Saint Nicholas ‘Sinterklaas’, which later became Santa Claus.
In modern depictions, Saint Nicholas is presented as a portly old man dressed in red and white with a bushy beard.
However, some have suggested that the original character wore green and that his modern red and white colors are the result of a 1930s marketing campaign by soft drink brand Coca Cola.