Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas

The Christmas standard, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, is to most a rambling of strange ‘gifts’, which tests our memory. However, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” had a more solemn intention with significance beyond the seemingly trite ‘gifts.’
The English had begun writing Christmas carols in the 15th century, but when the Puritans came to power they suppressed both Christmas and its carols. After Christmas was restored in England, festive songs praising the occasion were written, but the only legal church was the state church – Church of England. Between 1558, the year Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne, and 1829, when George IV was king, Catholics in England were forbidden from any practice of their faith by law – public and private. It was, at that time, illegal to be Catholic punishable by imprisonment or execution.
During this dark time, Catholics looked for ways to preserve their faith and teach their children basic doctrine without being caught. Catholic parents used nonsense songs, including “The 12 Days of Christmas,” that would not arouse suspicion in non-Catholics but would remind the children of their faith. For this reason, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was memorized and passed down from one generation to the next before it was ever recorded in writing. What we think of as a silly song today was popular two centuries ago during this dismal period as a Catechism song, a memory aid.
First appearing in England around 1780, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was devised to allow Roman Catholics to practice their faith without fear of punishment. This was during a time when music and poetry was often used to express ideas contrary to what the law allowed. In this way, although the real meanings have mostly been lost to us today, Mother Goose rhymes were disguised political commentaries in the days before so-called ‘free speech’.
Each ‘gift’ had, in reality, a hidden meaning intended to help young Catholics learn one of the tenets of their faith. So, as Christmas has become a ‘holiday for the children’, we should all return to our childhood. In this way, we may learn the true meaning behind each of the ‘gifts’ of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, and, in addition, learn the true meaning of Christmas and our faith, as children of old once did!
To begin, we need to know when the twelve days of Christmas are. In this day of advertising and Christmas sales and shopping, most people believe the twelve days lead up to Christmas Day, but this is a misinterpretation. The period leading up to Christmas is, actually, the Advent season, not the Christmas season. Instead, it benefits retailers if they can get people shopping ahead of the season; hence, winter coats appear in the fall, spring fashions in the winter, bathing suits in spring and back-to-school in summer. They are, then, being consistent when they sell Easter dresses during Lent or decorate for Christmas in Advent. So, remember, merchants have sales and decorate for what is coming, not what is happening!
In the Church, as in the Jewish Synagogue, the day technically begins at sunset. Therefore, Christmas begins at sundown on December 24th, which we call ‘Christmas Eve.’ The Christmas season, then, begins on Christmas Eve and ends with Epiphany. The twelve days of Christmas are, then, December 26th through January 6th.  Epiphany, the traditional day for celebrating the coming of the three wise men to worship Jesus and bring Him gifts, begins on the twelfth night after Christmas; so, Epiphany was known as Twelfthnight in England.

In “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, each of the 12 verses camouflages a religious theme…
My True Love does not refer to an earthly suitor, it, in fact, refers to God, Himself.
Me, who receives the strange sequence of ‘gifts’, refers to every baptized person or the Church.

1. On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree…
The Partridge is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ is symbolically represented by a mother partridge, who will feign injury to distract predators away from her defenseless nestlings, and even, if necessary, give up her life for her children. This is a reminder of Christ’s expression of sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so…” (Luke 13:34)
The Pear Tree is a reminder of the cross.
There fore…on the 1st day, God gave me the gift of Jesus on the Cross for the sins of the world
2. On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtle doves…
Two Turtle Doves are The Old and New Testaments, gifts that each Christian receives, which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.
3. On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three French hens…
Three French Hens represents the gift of the Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love. When the song was written, only the rich could afford these costly birds. “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
4. On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four calling birds…
Four Calling Birds symbolizes the gift of The Four Gospels/Evangelists: 1) Matthew, a tax collector in Judea, whom Jesus called to be one of his apostles; 2) Mark, or John Mark, a young boy at the time of Jesus’ ministry, who later teamed up with St. Paul on his first missionary journey; 3) Luke, a Greek physician, and the only non-Jewish writer in the Bible; and 4) John, one of the 12 apostles, who wrote his Gospel many years after Jesus was crucified, while he himself was imprisoned for his faith on the island of Patmos. They proclaim the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ. As early as the second century, Christian writers sought in Ezekiel’s vision (i, 5 sqq.) and in Apocalypse. (iv, 6-10) symbolical representations of the Four Evangelists. The system which finally prevailed in the Latin Church, consisted in symbolizing St. Matthew by a man (sometimes an angel), St. Mark by a lion, St. Luke by an ox, and St. John by an eagle.
5. On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings…
Five Gold Rings denotes the gift of the first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch:  1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world. Written by Moses, these books contain the early history of the Jews, the Ten Commandments and all the laws derived from them. Revered by the Jews, these books were considered to be worth more than gold, “even much fine gold.” (Psalms 19:9-10).
6. On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying…
Six Geese A-Laying signifies the six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1). God spoke the word and brought forth life. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31). Eggs are an almost universal symbol of new life.
7. On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming…
Seven Swans A-Swimming symbolizes the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) service/ministry,
3) teaching, 4) encouraging, 5) giving, 6) leadership, and 7) compassion/mercy (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
8. On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking…
Eight Maids A-Milking represents the eight Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:3-10): 1) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” 2) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” 3) “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” 4) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” 5) “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” 6) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” 7) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” 8) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
9. On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing…
Nine Ladies Dancing symbolizes the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit: 1) “love,” 2) “joy,” 3) “peace,” 4) “patience,” 5) “kindness,” 6) “generosity/goodness,” 7) “faithfulness,” 8) “gentleness, and” 9) “self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) 
10. On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten lords a-leaping… 
Ten Lords A-Leaping indicates the ten commandments: 1) I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me; 2) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; 3) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day; 4) Honor your father and your mother; 5) You shall not kill; 6) You shall not commit adultery; 7) You shall not steal; 8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; 9) You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; 10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods. (Exodus 20:1-17)

11. On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping…
Eleven Pipers Piping represents the eleven Apostles who remained faithful to Jesus: 1) “Simon, whom he named Peter;” 2) “his brother Andrew;” 3) “James;” 4) “John;” 5) “Philip;” 6) “Bartholomew;” 7) “Matthew;” 8) “Thomas;” 9) “James, son of Alphaeus;” 10) “Simon, called the Zealot,” 11) “Judas, son of James.” (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.
12. On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming…
Twelve Drummers Drumming represents The Twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed: 1) “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” 2) “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” 3) “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.” 4) “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave].” 5) “On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” 7) “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” 8) “the holy Catholic Church,” 9) “the communion of saints,” 10) “the forgiveness of sins,” 11) “the resurrection of the body,” 12) “and life everlasting.  Amen”
For years, the ditty helped youngsters learn their Catechism. Then in 1829, the English Parliament legalized Catholicism, and there was no more need to study in secret. Today, ironically, the song is associated only with the secular side of Christmas. Freedom of religion is one of those things you don’t notice much unless it’s gone, but “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which helped keep the faith alive when Catholics weren’t free, is still with us.

Monday, December 19, 2011

St Nicholas (part 3 of 3)

St Nicholas as Santa Claus

Nuns in France supposedly first began leaving treats on St. Nicholas Eve, December 5th, for the small children of poor families. St. Nicholas’ gifts were usually good things to eat: apples, oranges, nuts and eventually cookies and sweets. The custom quickly spread across Europe and was adopted by both rich and poor.

Children around the world know and love St. Nicholas as someone who brings gifts and treats in December. He is known by different names – and even looks different from place to place. It is said that his image of a fat, jolly fellow in a red suit was actually a result of a Coca Cola® ad in 1931! It is the same St. Nicholas, by whatever name or picture, who is said to delight children with gifts and good things to eat. Nicholas gave in secret, alert to others’ needs, and expecting nothing for himself in return. It is this selfless generosity which seeks only the good of the other that made Nicholas’ gifts the type of gifts that are a pale reflection of the gift God gave us in His Son.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor – and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of his feast day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. As it is told that St. Nicholas arrived in the Netherlands and Belgium on a steamship from Spain, he rode a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. Simple gift-giving in early December helps preserve Christmas Day for celebrating the most important Gift – God’s Gift of the Christ Child (John 3:16).

St. Nick vs. Santa Claus Comparison

So when you see a Santa figure at Christmastime, be sure to share the real story of St. Nick: the man who loved the Lord with all his heart and followed Him faithfully.

Here’s a comparison of the myth and the real man by – J. Rosenthal & C. Myers:

Santa Claus belongs to childhood;
St. Nicholas models for all of life.

Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales – the commercial Christmas message;
St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all – the hope-filled Christmas message.

Santa Claus encourages consumption;
St. Nicholas encourages compassion.

Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;
St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.

Santa Claus flies through the air – from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth – caring for those in need.

Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;
St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.

Santa Claus isn’t bad;
St. Nicholas is just better.
St Nicholas with the children

 Have a very merry & blessed Christmas!

St Nicholas (part 2 of 3)

Bishop Nicholas & the Council of Nicaea

How Nicholas Became a Bishop
A very long time ago when the Bishop of Myra died, other bishops gathered to select a new bishop for the See of Myra. As they met, they discussed and prayed, but were not able to discern the right choice to be the new bishop.
One night, the oldest and wisest bishop heard a voice in the night telling him to watch the doors of the church the next morning before matins. The first person to enter the church by the name of “Nicholas” was to be the new bishop. This wise bishop told his vision to the others, urging them to pray as he waited at the doors.

When the hour for morning prayer came, the first person to arrive was a young man. “What is your name?” asked the bishop. “I am Nicholas,” said the young man. “Nicholas, servant and friend of God, for your holiness you shall be bishop of this place,” said the bishop. Nicholas protested that he was not worthy to be named bishop. However, all the bishops said that it was God’s will that he be made the new bishop. They brought him into the church and placed him in the bishop’s seat where he was consecrated the new Bishop of Myra. And Nicholas vowed that he would bring the Gospel of Christ to the people and defend the faith from all those who would assail it. Bishop Nicholas then lived his life in faithful service to God as protector of the poor and helpless, as advocate of justice for those in need, and as a faithful defender of the Christian faith.

Nicholas became a defender of the faith against Arianism, a theory propagated by Arias of Egypt.
In 325, Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea, which was the first ecumenical council ever held. Although Bishop Nicholas does not appear on all lists of attendees, his name does appear on the oldest Greek list and on five other lists. It is probable that he attended, as more than 300 bishops from all over the Christian world came to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity, one of the early Church’s most intense theological questions. One idea, circulated by Arias, was Arianism, a heretical doctrine which asserted that Christ was not the Son of God, but a being nurtured by God, the Father, to the position of Son of God. This was the Arian controversy which shook Christianity’s very foundations.
Bishop Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea
Nicholas became a defender of the faith against Arianism. St. Methodius asserts that “thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.” He does not speak of Nicholas’ presence at the Council of Nicaea, but according to other traditions he was not only there but went so far in his indignation as to slap the arch-heretic Arius in the face in defense of the Gospel of Christ! At this, they say, he was deprived of his episcopal insignia and imprisoned, but Our Lord and His Mother appeared and restored to him both his liberty and his office.

Bishop Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea

In 325 Nicaea, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, the very first ecumenical council. More than 300 came from all over the Christian world to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity. It was one of the early church’s most intense theological questions. Arias, who was from Egypt, was teaching that Jesus the Son was not equal to God the Father. This was known as the Arian controversy and it shook the very foundations of Christianity. Arias argued his position forcefully and at great length. The assembly listened in silence and without interruption. Nicholas, however, became agitated, with what he saw as an attack on an essential Christian belief.
An outraged Nicholas got up, crossed the room, and slapped Arias in the face! The other bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable a bishop would become so confrontational in such a solemn assembly. Arias’ supporters demanded Constantine discipline Nicholas. Constantine acknowledged it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence; however, he passed determination of punishment on to the bishops.

The bishops decided Nicholas was to be stripped of his bishop’s garments, chained, and thrown into jail preventing Nicholas from participation in the rest of the meeting. Nicholas was shackled and put in jail until the council concluded and final judgment made.

Nicholas, ashamed of his outburst, prayed for forgiveness; although, he still believed Arias was wrong. During the night, Jesus, along with His mother Mary, appeared to Nicholas, asking, “Why are you imprisoned?” “Because of my love for you,” he replied. Jesus then gave Nicholas the Holy Scriptures. Meanwhile, Mary left and returned with the bishop’s garments. At peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures throughout the night.
When the jailer checked on Nicholas in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas, dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. This was reported to Constantine; he, then, freed Nicholas, who was fully reinstated as Bishop of Myra.

Another Account of Bishop Nicholas at the Council of Nicaea
St Nicholas as Patron of Sailors
When all the bishops were gathered together in Nicaea to decide the great question threatening to split the early church, there were many long speeches. It can be very tiring to be part of such meetings. Once when they were at dinner, Bishop Nicholas, apparently fatigued, dozed off.
As he slept, Nicholas heard voices calling his name. Leaving his sleeping body leaning on the table, he followed the voices. After traveling a long way, he came to a place in the middle of the sea. A mighty storm was raging around a ship in great danger. The wind shredded the ship’s sails, and the masts broke. Sailors, clinging to the ship, cried to Nicholas for help.
As Nicholas raised his hands, the waves calmed and the thunder and lightening stopped. The sun came out over a now calm sea. The grateful sailors thanked God for their rescue. Nicholas blessed the sailors. He returned to Nicaea, awoke at the table, yawned and rubbed his eyes. Seeing he had awakened, the other bishops said, “So much has happened while you slept, Nicholas. We have missed you, our Brother.” “Yes indeed,” said Nicholas. “A ship has been saved and many sailors rescued.” The bishops, completely unaware of what had happened, thought Nicholas was referring to the Church as a ship and the Council had saved the Church and its people. 
Some accounts list Nicholas as present at the Council of Nicaea and some do not. Some say his name was not on some lists because he was thrown in jail. Others say his name is missing because he was sleeping and missed some of the Council’s deliberations.

Next: Part 3 of 3 St Nicholas as Santa Claus

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St Nicholas (part 1 of 3)

History of Saint Nicholas
Naysayers claim St. Nicholas existed only in legend, without any reliable historical record. Legends, though, usually grow out of factual events; however, they may be embellished to make events more interesting. St. Nicholas’ legend may be reality intertwined with myth. While all of the “Santa Claus” legends are clearly fairy tales, the following facts of St. Nicholas’ life are purported to be derived from historical truth. These stories give us an idea of his personal character, as well as what the man may have been like. The information and stories here have been compiled from several Internet sources, including EWTN, Catholic Online and one which claims to have gathered their information ‘from various sites throughout the Internet’. This site states they ‘made every effort to compare and extract the items that seemed to be based on actual historical facts.’

Nicholas was born into a wealthy family about 350 miles northwest of Bethlehem in Patara. It is believed he was born in the third century between 260 and 280 AD; although, the exact date is unknown. Patara, which was Greek at the time, is now on the southern coast of Turkey. He was a Christian man who loved children, and loved his neighbors with the love of Christ. He spent his life privately giving gifts to the unfortunate. These usually secret acts of Christian charity, in addition to the Three Wisemen’s gifts to the baby Jesus, may have led to the tradition of exchanging gifts during the Christmas season. He died December 6, 343 AD in Myra.

December 6th, therefore, is the feast day of St Nicholas.

Nicholas’ history is vague, but there are many legends associated with him. We are told Nicholas was raised by pious and virtuous parents who had him study the sacred books by the age of five. “He was exceedingly well brought up by his parents and trod piously in their footsteps. The child, watched over by the church enlightened his mind and encouraged his thirst for sincere and true religion” His parents died when he was a young man, leaving him well off, and he was determined to devote his inheritance to works of charity. An opportunity soon arose.

Story of the Dowries
There was a man, once rich, who had fallen on hard times. Now poor, he had three daughters of an age to be married. In those days a young woman’s family had to have something of value, a dowry, to offer prospective bridegrooms. The larger the dowry, the better chance a young woman had to find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery, or worse.
Word of the family’s misfortune reached Nicholas, who had the wealth inherited from his parents. Coming in secret by night, he tossed a bag of gold into the house. It sailed in through an open window, landing in a stocking left before the fire to dry. What joy in the morning when the gold was discovered! The first daughter soon wed. Not long after, another bag of gold again appeared secretly. The second daughter was married. The father, now very anxious to know who the secret benefactor was, kept watch during the night.
A third bag of gold landed in the house and the watchful father leaped up and caught the fleeing donor. “Ah, Nicholas, it is you!” cried the father, “You have saved my daughters from certain disaster.” Nicholas, embarrassed, and not wishing to be known, begged the man to keep his identity secret. He told the man to thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to his prayers for deliverance.

This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes, the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. For this reason, three gold balls, also represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. Hence, St. Nicholas is known as the gift giver.

These three bags or purses of gold represented in pictures are believed by some to have been mistaken for the heads of three children. This belief gave rise to the absurd story of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.

The Evil Innkeeper
In France the story is told of three small children having fun playing in the fields. As they play, they wander off toward the town. Walking about and exploring, the children lose track of the time. It is now late, the sun is going down; the children are hungry, tired and lost. They approach a lighted butcher’s shop, saying, “We are lost and hungry. May we eat and sleep?” “Oh, yes,” comes the reply, “do come in.” As they enter, the butcher takes a sharp knife, cuts them up, and puts them in a large salting tub. Time passes. Then a knock comes on the door. Bishop Saint Nicholas appears, saying to the evil butcher, “Open your large salting tub!” The saint, putting his hand on the tub, appeals to God, saying, “Rise up, children.” The little children are restored to life; their families joyfully welcome them home. Since then, St. Nicholas has been called upon as the patron and protector of children.
Coming to the city of Myra when the clergy and people of the province were in session to elect a new bishop, St. Nicholas was indicated by God as the man they should choose. This was at the time of Diocletian’s persecutions at the beginning of the fourth century. The Greek writers go on to say that now, as leader, “the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with other Christians. But when the great and religious Constantine, chosen by God, assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas, who when he was set at liberty returned to Myra.”
As bishop, Nicholas was a servant of God and a shepherd of the people, caring for their needs. His active pursuit of justice for his people was demonstrated when he secured lower taxes for Myra, saved the lives of three men wrongly condemned, and secured grain in time of famine. He taught the Gospel simply, so ordinary people understood, and he lived out his faith and devotion to God in helping the poor and all in need. These stories are another testament to his defense and protection of his people.

Tax Relief for Myra 

The people of Myra were suffering under the burden of heavy taxes. They begged Bishop Nicholas to ask the emperor to relieve them of the high taxes which caused such hardship. Nicholas went to Constantine to plead the cause of his people. The emperor heard Nicholas’ pleas and granted a large cut. Nicholas received a written copy of the order. He immediately took the copy and went down to the sea where he threw the parchment out into the water. Soon afterwards it was fished out of the water near Myra and taken to the proper authorities. It was put into immediate effect and taxes were lowered substantially.
Meanwhile the finance ministers had convinced Constantine that losing this revenue would seriously harm the royal treasury. Constantine summoned Nicholas back and asked to have the order returned so it could be changed to a much smaller tax cut. When Nicholas reported that the order had already been put into effect in Myra, Constantine sent a runner to determine the truth. How could it be true when Bishop Nicholas was still in Constantinople? However, when Nicholas’ words were confirmed, the emperor allowed the full reduction to stand. A century later Myra’s people still attributed their low taxation to St. Nicholas.

Nicholas’ Burial & Pilgrimages
All accounts are unanimous to Nicholas’ burial in the episcopal city of Myra. By the time of Justinian, some two centuries later, his feast was celebrated on December 6th, and a church was built over his tomb. The ruins of this domed basilica, which stood in the plain where the city was built, were excavated in the nineteenth century. The tremendous popularity of the saint is indicated by an anonymous Greek in the tenth century who declares: “The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the farthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are erected in his honor.”

When Myra and its great shrine finally passed into the hands of the Saracens in 1034, several Italian cities made plans to get possession of the relics of the famous Nicholas. There was great competition for them between Venice and Bari. The citizens of Bari finally, on May 9, 1087, carried them off from the lawful Greek custodians and their Mohammedan/Moslem masters. A new church was quickly built at Bari and Pope Bd. Urban II was present at the enshrining of the relics. Devotion to St. Nicholas now increased and many miracles were attributed to his intercession.

At Myra “the venerable body of the bishop, embalmed as it was in the good ointments of virtue exuded a sweet smelling myrrh, which kept it from corruption and proved a health giving remedy against sickness to the glory o f him who had glorified Jesus Christ, our true God.” The translation of the relics did not interrupt this phenomenon, and the “manna of St. Nicholas” is said to flow to this day. It was one of the great attractions which drew pilgrims to his tomb from all parts of Europe.

The greatest popularity of St. Nicholas is found neither in the eastern Mediterranean nor north-western Europe, great as that was, but in Russia. With St. Andrew the Apostle, he is patron of Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church even observes the feast of his translation of his relics; so many Russian pilgrims came to Bari before the revolution that their government supported a church, hospital and hospice there. St. Nicholas is also patron of Greece, Apulia, Sicily, and Lorraine, of many cities in Italy, Greece, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, and the Netherlands and dioceses (including Galway) and churches innumerable. Nicholas was so widely revered that more than 2,000 churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England. At Rome the basilica of St. Nicholas in the Jail of Tully (in Carcere) was founded between the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries.

In addition, he is named in the preparation of the Byzantine Mass.

Part 2: Bishop Nicholas at the Council of Nicea

Adoring Santa/St Nick with Baby Jesus