St. Nicholas, more popularly known as one of the major inspirations for Santa Claus, was probably a 4th-century Christian saint of Greek origin, who was the Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor, corresponding to present-day Demre in southwestern Turkey. And going back to this ancient coastal region of Myra, or Demre, archaeologists have unearthed what could be the original grave of the conscientious saint known for his charitable deeds.
The ‘shrine’ in question here was discovered with the aid of electronic surveys that detected spatial gaps beneath the plinth of the main church at Myra. In other words, the grave (or at least what is speculated as a grave) is seemingly undisturbed with no discernable damages being done to its core structure. Antalya Director of Surveying and Monuments Cemil Karabayram said –
The temple on the ground of the church is in good condition. We believe that it has received no damage so far. But it is hard to enter it because there are stones with motifs on the ground. These stones should be scaled one by one and then removed.
Now interestingly enough, there is a legend relating to the remains of St. Nicholas, which is also often put forth as a conjecture. According to it, concerned by the chaotic engagements between the Eastern Romans (Byzantine Empire) and Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor, a group of Christian Italian merchant sailors mounted a covert operation and snatched away the reliquary of the saint from Myra, during circa 11th century AD. Subsequently, his bones and grave relics were supposedly taken to Bari (in southern Italy) and housed inside the extant Basilica San Nicola church. However, according to Karabayram, the bones that were taken by the medieval Italian merchants possibly belonged to another saint. He clarified –
We studied all of the documents from between 1942 and 1966. There were some notes there. According to these notes, this church was demolished and rebuilt. During the reconstruction, traders in Bari took the bones. But it is said that these bones did not belong to St. Nicholas but to another priest. One of those to have said this was Professor Yıldız Ötüken [who headed the archaeological excavations project in Demre for 20 years], an academic of Hacettepe University’s history of art department. She says that St Nicholas is kept in a special section.
In other words, Karabayram believes that the hidden section in question here might still contain the fabled remains of St. Nicholas. To that end, in case the archaeologists manage to gain access to this subterranean section, eight academics from different branches are at standby to confirm the potentially fabulous find. In the meantime, the researchers are still dabbling with CT scan and geo-radar to map the structural nook-and-crannies of the church. As Karabayram proclaimed –
The world’s eyes will be set on here. We claim that St. Nicholas has been kept in this temple without any damage. We are at the last stage. If we get the results, Antalya’s tourism will gain big momentum. We will start discussions at an international level after the excavations. The head of the excavations is Professor Sema Doğan and she is in shock, too. We have been working for three months and at the last stage, the excavation field will be extended. We cannot enter there right now because experts have to first work on the mosaics.
Source: Hurriyet Daily News