The Homeland of Santa Claus

Thousands of tourists from all over the world come to Demre (formerly Myra) searching for the roots of Saint Nicholas. They come as pilgrims, especially from Russia. The beautiful beaches and warm weather along the Mediterranean coast also draw visitors from both Eastern and Western Europe. They may come to Demre as pilgrims, or wondering about the origin of Santa Claus, who is called Noel Baba or Father Christmas in Turkey.

Saint Nicholas, known throughout the world as Santa Claus, was born in the ancient Lycian city of Patara, an important city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Around 300 A.D.,during aprosperous era for Patara, a rich wheat merchant had a son and named him Nicholas. His birth was accepted as a gift from the Heavens, the fruit of his parents’ prayers and vows and a savior for the poor people. It is believed that he performed miracles even as a young man. According to one legend, Nicholas was trapped under the wreckage of an old church and he survived, while his mother was crying and calling out for him.

For many years an Orthodox liturgy was held in the Church of St. Nicholas on the 6th of December, St. Nicholas Day. However, in January 2008 the name of the St. Nicholas Church (Aziz Nicholas Kilisesi) was officially changed to Father Christmas Museum. The modern Turkish understanding of Father Christmas, or Saint Nicholas, as a person who embodied humanitarian values is presented in this book for older children, Saint Nicholas by Isik Soyturk, published by Filiz Yayincilik, 2002. It is also available in Turkish as Noel Baba, and German as Der Nikolaus.

Saint Nicholas Church Myra (Demre/Kale)

The church to honor Saint Nicholas and contain his tomb was built in AD 520 on the foundations of the older Christian church where Saint Nicholas served as bishop. Over time the river changed course and the church filled with silt and was buried . In 1862 Russian Tsar Nicholas I restored the church, adding the tower and making other changes to its Byzantine architecture. The church is regarded as the 3rd most important Byzantine structure in Anatolia. It is noted for the remarkable wall frescos, its architectural, and its religious significance. The northeast annex arcade contains the only example of the Nicholas cycle in Turkey.

The restoration of the church, and particularly the wall paintings, has been carried out with support from the Antalya Administration (2002), the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (2001), the World Monuments Fund—Samuel H. Kress Foundation (2000), and most recently by the Aristotle S. Onassis and Vehbi Koç foundations (2003–2006). The site was included in the World Heritage List in 1982. The work of inventorying the murals and architectural spaces is carried out by the Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture under the direction of architect Cengiz Kabaonlu. Preservation and restoration is under the direction of T. Ridvan Isler. Historian Nilay Karakaya, Erciyes University, analyzes and interprets the wall paintings that have been recorded and restored. Professor Yildiz Otüken, Hacettepe University, Ankara, is Director of the excavations and publishes the reports.

Demre-Myra & Church of St.Nicolas
Demre was one of the most important cities of the Lycian civilisation. 25km west of Finike and 48km east of Kas, Demre was a place of settlement from the 5th century BC. The city was deserted in 9 A.D after the invasions of the Arabs. Rock tombs, theatres and the Church of St. Nicholas (said to be the original Santa Claus) are the most interesting sites in the town today.

Nearly 2,000 churches were consecrated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of many cities. His life story and his miracles are recorded in many books, the earliest written by a friar named Michael from the Byzantiumis Stadion Monastery in 750-800. Let’s take a stroll together through this beautiful site, the church of St. Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas

Bishop of Myra, Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker, Holy Hierarch
Born c. 270 A.D. (the Ides of March) Patara, Lycia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)
Died 6 December 347 A.D. Myra, Lycia
Venerated in     All Christianity
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy.
Feast 6 December (main feast day)- 19 December (some Eastern churches)- 9 May (translation of relics)
Attributes Vested as a Bishop. In Eastern Christianity, wearing an omophorion and holding a Gospel Book. Sometimes shown with Jesus Christ over one shoulder, holding a Gospel Book, and with the Theotokos over the other shoulder, holding an omophorion.
Patronage Children, sailors, fishermen, merchants, broadcasters, the falsely accused, prostitutes, repentant thieves, pharmacists, archers, pawnbrokers.

The original tomb of St. Nicholas is at his basilica in Myra.

Saint Nicholas (Greek: Άγιος Νικόλαος, Aghios [“holy”] Nicolaos [“victory of the people”]) (270–6 December 346) is the canonical and most popular name for Nikolaos of Myra, a saint and Greek[3] Bishop of Myra (Demre, in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker (Greek: Νικόλαος ο Θαυματουργός, Nikolaos o Thaumaturgos). He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as is common for early Christian saints. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari.His feastday is December 6.

The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honored by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, and students in Greece, Belgium, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barranquilla, Bari, Beit Jala, Fribourg, Huguenots, Liverpool, Siggiewi, and Lorraine. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Santa Claus the patron saint of New Amsterdam, the historical name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. A nearly identical story is attributed by Greek folklore to Basil of Caesarea. Basil’s feast day on 1 January is considered the time of exchanging gifts in Greece.