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December 6, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause, but he was not born at the North Pole.  He was born at Patara, which is on the southern coast of what is today Turkey.  The date was March 15, 270 AD.  At the time this area was the Roman province of Asia.  He was a Greek and was raised in a Greek Orthodox Christian home.  His parents died while he was young and he was adopted by his uncle who was the Bishop of Patara.

He became the Pastor of the Greek Church at Myra which is close by Patara on the southern sea coast of Asia.  Evidence shows he was one of the clergy present at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  He died on December 6 in 343 AD at the age of 73.

Nicholas of Myra was known throughout the Eastern Church as a generous and loving pastor.  There are probably more churches named for him than any other early Christian.  However, his actual life story has been hard to reconstruct due to the lack of written sources.  He was originally buried at Myra.  However, when the Moslems conquered the area it hindered pilgrimage to his burial site.  There was also fear that his grave would be desecrated.  In 1087 his bones were taken by force to the city of Bari, a seaside city on the southern coast of Italy.  There they reposed until 1953.

In that year a large scale renovation process was begun at the church at Bari and the Vatican requested that during the restoration process the bones of the saint be examined.  The task was entrusted to Luigi Martino, the anatomy professor from the University of Bari.  Martino took thousands of detailed measurements and x-ray photographs of the remains.  However, the technology was not available in 1953 to do an authentic reconstruction of the patron of Christmas.

By 2004 the imaging technology was available.  Caroline Wilkinson of the University of Manchester, England took the data faithfully recorded by Martino and did a digital reconstruction of Saint Nicholas’ face and head.  The data retrieved was used in a BBC documentary.

The bones revealed that Nicholas was an elderly man, well over sixty.  He was approximately five feet ten inches tall.  He probably suffered from arthritis which gives me some semblance to the great man.

The oldest visual image available of Saint Nicholas of Myra is dated somewhere between the mid-600s and the mid-700s.  It was discovered at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.  Many of the icons and artistic renderings of this early period of Church history have been destroyed due to the iconoclastic movement of the eighth and ninth centuries.  Added to this were the Fourth Crusade and the plundering of the Arab Moslems.  Saint Catherine’s is in the wilderness of Sinai and fortunately escaped much of these destructive forces.

It is clear from this portrait that Nicholas was a man of ministry.  He holds the book of the Gospels signifying his Christian orthodoxy and his hand extended in blessing speaks of his pastoral concern.

For those interested in reading an authoritative history of Nicholas of Myra I would recommend “THE SAINT WHO WOULD BE SANTA CLAUSE” by Adam C. English (2012).

One Pastor’s loving spirit has persisted through the years in the traditions associated with Santa Clause.  It is to be hoped that we will not lose it completely in the materialism of our time and culture.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs