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Obit of the Day (Historical): St. Nicholas (343)

St. Nicholas, the patron saint of bankers, pawnbrokers, sailors, prisoners, unmarried women, and, of course, children died on December 6, 343. Nicholas, who was orphaned at a young age, dedicated his life to God and would be named Bishop of Myra (located in what is now Turkey), leading the local church during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Nicholas would be imprisoned by Diocletian and when released would also take part in the famous Council of Nicea (325).

But to reach sainthood you have to earn it. And according to tradition Nicholas did. Here are a few of the stories connected to the Bishop of Myra:

  • While still alive Nicholas managed to free innocent men from prison, but he also appeared in dreams to jailers who released their wrongly imprisoned charges upon waking.
  • There is the story of an evil butcher who kidnapped and killed three young children. Nicholas discovered the horrific crime and resurrected the children.
  • In 311-312 during a famine in Myra a shipload of wheat bound for Constantinople (and the Emperor’s stores) docked. Nicholas prodded the sailors to donate two years of wheat to the city, including seed for sowing with the promise that they would suffer no repercussions. They reluctantly agreed and when they reached their final destination found that the wheat load had lost no weight.
  • The most famous miracle - more of a good deed - is when Nicholas surreptitiously placed bags of gold coins in the stockings or shoes of three unmarried women who could not afford a dowry. Thus began the tradition of placing gifts in stockings during Christmas.

Nicholas is one of the few saints venerated by Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans. His feast day is celebrated on the date of his death: December 6.

Over time the English and Dutch - especially in the United States - transformed St. Nicholas/Sinter Klaus into the Christmas icon Santa Claus. Although St. Nicholas Day is still popular in the Orthodox Church and several Western European countries, the saint’s day has been replaced by Christmas and the living historical figure has become the “jolly, old elf.”

Sources: The St. Nicholas Center and Catholic Online

(Images are all done by artist Elisabeth Ivanovsky and copyright of The St. Nicholas Center. They are wonderful. Captions are available when you click on the images.)

(Thanks to closertothelost.tumblr.com for a correction.)

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