A shrine thought to be the tomb of St. Nicholas has been unearthed in Turkey.
The tomb of St. Nicholas, the bishop known to children all over the world as Santa Claus, is believed to have been discovered under an ancient church in southern Turkey, according to a report in the Telegraph.
For centuries, the remains of St. Nicholas were thought to have been stolen from Turkey and taken to Italy in the 11th century, but Turkish experts believe that the discovery of the tomb indicates that the saint’s bones have been there since his death in the year 343.
St. Nicholas, a bishop known for his charity and acts of generosity, was born in Demre, then known as Myra.
Having come across the tomb using electromagnetic imaging, the head of Antalya Monument Authority, Cemil Karabayram, is confident that the remains of the saint will be also found.
“We have obtained very good results but the real work starts now,” he told Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, adding that the shrine is intact but hard to reach due to the presence of stone reliefs that need to be preserved.
“We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of St. Nicholas,” he said.
The saint’s remains were thought to have been smuggled to the Italian city of Bari by merchants in the year 1087. Because of the discovery of this tomb, Turkish experts now believe that the wrong bones were taken to Italy, and that St. Nicholas’s remains are in Turkey.
A basilica was built in Bari to house what were thought to be the relics of St. Nicholas, but the Telegraph reports that experts in Turkey think those remains might have actually been the bones of a local priest.
Aleteia’s John Burger reported last year that the town of Demre is a popular pilgrimage site for Russians and other Orthodox Christians who venerate St. Nicholas as a “wonder worker” and come on pilgrimage to his birthplace to pray for miracles.
As the website of the Orthodox Church in America writes of the saint:
There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom Saint Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desperation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man’s poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. Saint Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction. In bestowing charity, Saint Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds.
Tourists from other parts of the world have been few and far between due to terrorist incidents and the political climate. This discovery could prove a boon to Demre’s tourist-dependent economy.