Santa Claus is the one person children look forward to with the greatest admiration every year. What few people usually realise, however, is that behind the big beard and red suit is a very real character.
Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century AD to a wealthy family. It was after the death of his ancestors that he decided to spend the rest of his life helping those in need – an expression of his commitment to the Church. Although his good deeds have been successfully carried forward into modern times, and the gift of his person is still a tradition in Christian countries, it is only recently that the veil has begun to be lifted on the whereabouts of his final resting place.
According to the original story, the tomb in the small Turkish town of Demre was looted by Italian pirates in the 11th century. The confiscated remains were taken as far as Bari, Italy. However, a team of Turkish archaeologists discovered that the bones did not belong to the bishop, and mistakenly looted the tomb of another monk. The good news is that, in theory, the kind benefactor was “rescued”, as he remains buried in a secret tomb under the Demrei basilica.
Interestingly, the excavation is proceeding very slowly, as archaeologists have to cope with a number of complications. For example, the man-sized cavity has been very carefully concealed: not only is access difficult, but it is also covered by a precious mosaic floor, pieces of which can only be removed with great care.