Sociology Index

Russia and St. Nicholas of Myra

How a Bishop from Turkey became the patron saint of Moscow and Santa Claus to the world? There is not much known about Nicholas' early life. It is generally believed that Nicholas of Myra was born into a wealthy family in the Lycian seaport town of Patara. He was imprisoned, for refusing to denounce his Christian faith, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305). St. Nicholas' remains were, originally, entombed at Myra, modern Demre (Myra = myrrh). In 1087, the Saint's relics were moved to Bari, Italy, where they are still enshrined in the Basilica of St. Nicola. When the Greek Constantine became emperor, the center of the empire was moved to Constantinople which is modern day Istanbul, Turkey.

Constantine did more than tolerate Christianity, he made it the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. The persecution of Christians ceased, prisoners were released and the Emperor called for the convening of a sacred council, which we know as the Council of Nicea or the First Ecumenical Council. Nicholas, now Bishop of Myra, in Turkey, attended this council in AD 325. What is the connection between this venerable Bishop and Santa Claus?

Legend has it that Nicholas of Myra worked numerous miracles for those in need. He is also known as the Wonder Worker. Possibly the most famous and popular story concerns a nobleman and his three daughters. The nobleman had fallen on hard times and did not have the money to pay his daughters' dowries. Without this, the girls could not marry.

Nicholas of Myra, learning of their despair, went to the house, at night, and dropped a bag of gold coins in one of the daughter's window. Later, he returned and deposited a bag of coins in through the next girl's window. When he returned to bestow his gift on the third girl, all the windows of the house were locked. So, the good Bishop Nicholas of Myra climbed up on the roof and dropped the bag of money down through the chimney. The coins fell into the girls' stockings that were hanging on the fireplace mantle to dry. Sound familiar? This legend is where we get the tradition of hanging stockings for Santa to fill with treats and gifts on Christmas Eve!