Location of St. Nicholas Tomb Discovered–the Inspiration For Santa Claus Who Left Gifts Inside Shoes and Helped the Poor

Photograph of the desecrated sarcophagus in the St. Nicholas Church where Saint Nicholas’s bones were kept before they were plundered in 1087.

The exact location of the tomb of the Roman-era saint who inspired the gift-giving of Santa Claus has been uncovered by archeologists in the town of Myra in southern Turkey.

Saint Nicholas (‘Santa’ is Italian for saint) was an early Christian bishop of Greek descent who was beloved for his legendary habit of secret gift-giving.

He lived between 270 and 343 AD, and the mosaic floor on which he walked was discovered beneath the modern floorboards of the newer St. Nicholas Church.

The original building was submerged with the rise of the Mediterranean Sea and fewer than 200 years after Nicholas’s death, a new St. Nicholas church was built over the site of the one where he had served as bishop.

“In fact, this is the floor of the period he lived in, and we are talking about the floor on which St. Nicholas’ feet stepped,” Prof. Dr. Osman Eravşar told DHA News. The Antalya Cultural Heritage Preservation President says this is “an extremely important discovery, the first find from that period” within the excavation.

St. Nick’s reputation for secret gift-giving included placing coins in the shoes of those who left them outside for him—a practice still celebrated around the world on his feast day of December 6th.

St. Nicholas depicted in fresco

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One written account describes Saint Nicholas caught in the act of charity toward three daughters. The bishop, who came from a wealthy family, placed three bags of gold—one each night—inside the home of their poor father. When he was caught in the act, Nicholas ordered him not to tell anyone about the gifts.

Saint Nicholas Church excavation in Myra (aka Demre) – Photo by Dosseman CC license, Wikipedia

The saint’s remains were moved from the flooded church and reinstalled in the new building inside a sarcophagus. Though the bones were later stolen, this new discovery uncovered the original tomb—and researchers hope to unearth more clues to his early life.

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The site is being prepared to eventually be “made ready for display,” said Eravşar.

See the collection of photos from the recent archaeology at the DHA website.

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