Saint Nicholas was born in Patara at the end of the 3rd century and became the bishop of the Christian church of Myra, in Lycia, in the 4th century. Patara and Myra are two ancient cities on the Mediterranean Coast in Turkey. The ancient city of Myra, located a few kilometers out of Demre in the north, was one of the earliest Lycian cities. Myra was renowned throughout centuries as the city where St. Nicholas had lived.
His reputation for generosity and compassion is best exemplified in the legend that relates how Nicholas saved a poor man from a life of prostituting his three daughters. These were the days in which girls had to provide dowries to get married. On three separate occasions the bishop is said to have tossed a bag of gold through the family’s window, thus providing a dowry to procure for each daughter an honorable marriage.
This story provides the foundation for the custom, still practiced in many countries, of giving gifts in celebration of the saint’s day, which was December 6. This tradition has later been transferred to Christmas Day in some other countries.
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children and sailors. Variations of his name range from Sint Nikolaas to Sinterklaas to Santa Claus; he is known as Father Christmas in England, Grandfather Frost in Russia, Pere Noel in France, Joulupukki in Finland and Saint Nick in the United States. You can read more about Sint Nicolaas in the Netherlands and Germany.
St. Nicholas was buried in a tomb outside the city of Myra over which a chapel was subsequently erected. In the 6C it was replaced by a large church. This church is located in the town of Demre today. At the end of the 11C Italians, with the bones of St. Nicholas from Myra, built a famous pilgrimage church over his mortal remains in Bari. Several relics of St. Nicholas such as fragments of his jawbone and skull, are today kept in the Archeological Museum of Antalya.