Skip to comments.The Real St. Nicholas – How Did a Cantankerous but Holy Bishop Become Jolly Ole St. Nick?
Posted on 12/06/2010 2:56:29 PM PST by Salvation
Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas. The real St. Nicholas was nothing close to the St. Nick (Santa Claus) of the modern age. He was a thin curmudgeonly man with a zeal for the Lord that caused flairs of anger. Compromise was unknown to him. The slow transformation of him into Jolly ole Saint Nicholas is a remarkable recasting of him centuries in the making. Some years ago the Washington Post featured an article entitled Poles Apart: Nicholas of Myra; How a 4th-Century Bishop Achieved Fame 1,500 Years Later, With a Whole New Attitude.
Since I had to blog twice yesterday (due to the need to respond to the current Washington Post article on Clergy Sexual Abuse) I thought I might take a break and present excerpts from the article that detail the real St. Nicholas of Myra. It is a very engaging look at the cantankerous Saint who lived through some very tough times.
I am aware that hagiography (the study of the Saints) is sometimes more art than science. I cannot vouch for every detail in the article and would be interested if some of you intrepid hagiographers what to clarify, correct or add to the details given.
The Full Article (which details, somewhat thoroughly, St. Nicholas transition to Santa) can be read here: Poles Apart. I have also placed a PDF of the whole article which is more easily printed here: PDF Poles Apart Nicholas and Nick
Enjoy this excerpt on the real St. Nicholas of Myra (aka Santa):
The year is 325. The place is Nicaea, a small town near the Black Sea in what is now Turkey. Thousands of priests, 318 bishops, two papal lieutenants and the Roman emperor Constantine are gathered to face a looming church crisis ..
One of the churchmen rises to speak. Arius, from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, tells the gathering that Jesus was not divine. He was just a prophet. Suddenly, a second man is on his feet, an obscure, cantankerous bishop named Nicholas. He approaches Arius, fist raised menacingly. There are gasps. Would he dare? He would. Fist strikes face. Arius goes down. He will have a shiner. Nick, meanwhile, is set upon by holy men. His robes are torn off. He is thrown into a dungeon.
Peer down through the bars. Behold the simmering zealot sitting there, scowling, defiant, imprisoned for his uncompromising piety. Recognize his sallow face? No? Well, no reason you should. But he knows you. Hes been to your house many times .
[O]n this holiday we examine the puzzling paradox of Santa Claus. On the one hand, we have the modern Santa, a porcine, jolly man who resides at the North Pole with a woman known only as Mrs. Claus.
On the other hand, we have the ancient Santa. Saint Nicholas. Paintings show a thin man. He was spare of frame, flinty of eye, pugnacious of spirit. In the Middle Ages, he was known as a brawling saint. He had no particular sense of humor that we know of. He could be vengeful, wrathful, an embittered ex- con .No doubt, Saint Nick was a good man. A noble man. But a hard man.
Nicholas was born in Patara, a small town on the Mediterranean coast, 280 years after the birth of Christ. He became bishop of a small town in Asia Minor called Myra. Beyond that, details of his life are more legend than fact .He became a priest at 19, and bishop in his twenties .Diocletian ruled the Roman Empire; it was the early 300s, and began the Great Persecution. . Nicholas kept preaching Christianity, and was arrested and tortured for disobeying the new laws. He spent more than a decade in jail. Among his punishments, according to Saint Simeons 10th-century history, were starvation and thirst. That is how Santa got skinny . Twelve years later, AD 312, .Constantine triumphed. Across the empire, bishops and priests returned to work and Nicholas got out of jail. He tended to local business. He was not pleasant about it. At the time, Myra was a hotbed of Artemis-worship Nicholas prayed for vengeance, and his prayers were answered. Artemiss temple crumbled. The priests who lived in Artemiss temple ran in tears to the bishop. They appealed to his Christian mercy. They wanted their temple restored. .Nicholas was not moved. Prison had left him in no mood for compromise. Go to Hells fire, he is said to have said, which has been lit for you by the Devil.
The Time of Nick In his lifetime, Nicholas crusaded against official corruption and injustice, seeing both as an affront to God. Supposedly, his intervention through fire-and-brimstone denunciations of corrupt officials saved at least a half-dozen innocent men from the gallows or the chopping block. He was forgiven for punching Arius and rescued from the dungeon. In the end, his views on the Trinity were vindicated by the adoption of the Nicene Creed, which declares Christ divine. Saint Nick died on Dec. 6. The year could be 326 or 343 or 352, depending whose account you rely on. Why we know the day of the year, but not the year itself, will be explained forthwith ..
Nicholas of Myra might not seem like the kind of person who relates to kids, and few acts attributed to him involve children. There are two, though neither is exactly the stuff of sugar plums and Christmas stockings. In one tale, widely told, Nicholas secretly delivers three bags of gold to a penniless father. The debtor dad uses the loot as dowries so his three girls do not have to become prostitutes .The second anecdote tells of the time a tavern owner robbed, murdered three children, hiding their remains in pickle barrels. Fortunately, Saint Nicholas happened to walk through the tavern-keepers door .Soon, all three boys, were back home, reeking of pickle juice. What became of the shopkeeper is unrecorded . By the Middle Ages, Nick had become the patron saint of children, and he had a new gig: gift-giving. Throughout Europe, the legend spread: He delivered trinkets to good kids and twigs to naughty ones. It was an uneasy transition from curmudgeon to cuddle-bear. .
As said above you can click on those links to read the full story of how St. Nicholas of Myra morphed into Santa Claus.
Heres a Medieval Version of Jolly old St. Nicholas. The text is the Introit for the feast of St. Nicholas (Statuit ei Dominus) and translated says: The Lord made unto him a covenant of peace, and made him a prince, that the dignity of the priesthood should be to him forever.
Ping for later
Now we know who was at the top of the Naughty List - Arius.
“Nicholas secretly delivers three bags of gold to a penniless father. The debtor dad uses the loot as dowries so his three girls do not have to become prostitutes”
Explains why he’s held in such esteem today. Interesting article! Thanks Salvation.
Saint Nicholas of Myra, By Ilya Repin
How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus: One Theory
An Orthodox priest at Bari; the story of St. Nicholas' bones
Turkish Town Exchanges St. Nick for Santa (Former Myra, hometown of St. Nicholas)
The Real St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas belongs in any reclamation of Christmas
Don't forget: St. Nicholas' Day is tomorrow [today] (get your shoes out!)
The Russian legend of St. Nicolas and St. Cassian(Soloviev's Application)
Life of Saint Nicholas the Bishop, from The Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Voragine
Yes, There Really is a St. Nicholas !
Fist strikes face. Arius goes down. He will have a shiner. Nick, meanwhile, is set upon by holy men. His robes are torn off. He is thrown into a dungeon.
**The real St Nicholas would most likely be pretty appalled by the association.**
Saint Nicholas, Bishop
Saint Nicholas Saving Seafarers (December 6)
From the Belles Heures of Jean, duke of Berry, fol. 168r
The Limbourg Brothers, France (Paris), active ca. 1400-1416
Tempera and gold on vellum
The Cloisters Collection, 1954
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York
Early in the Advent season celebrate a feast that has been popular for centuries in Christian countries, especially in Northern Europe. In our over-commercialized society, this holiday gives us a good "teaching moment" to remind children that Jolly Santa Claus, is, in fact, Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the city of Myra in what is now Turkey.
Saint Nicholas was renowned for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Among the kind and miraculous acts attributed to him are saving three young girls from prostitution by secretly providing them with dowries, raising three murdered boys from the dead, and saving sailors caught in stormy seas. For these reasons, he is considered the patron saint of children, unmarried girls, and sailors, among others.
Traditional celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day in Northern Europe included gifts left in children's shoes (the origin of our American Christmas stockings). Good children receive treats - candies, cookies, apples and nuts, while naughty children receive switches or lumps of coal. Sometimes coins were left in the shoes, reminiscent of the the life-saving doweries the saint provided. Today - especially in families of German extraction - children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, and expect to find candy and coins or small gifts in their shoe on December 6th.
In some households the father of the family may dress up as Saint Nicholas on the eve of his feast. He comes in, sometimes with his sidekick, Krampus or Black Peter, and helps each child examine his conscience. He admonishes the bad and rewards the good. If your family enjoys theatrics, this is a wonderful opportunity early in Advent to inspire children to amend their ways in preparation for the coming King. (Your family might get together with other families with young children and celebrate together.)
Prayers and Scripture Readings for Saint Nicholas Day Collect for the Feast of Saint Nicholas First reading: Isaiah 6:1-8 Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." Gospel reading: Luke 10:1-9 Saint Nicholas Day Baking Project
O God, Who didst adorn blessed Nicholas,
the bishop, with miracles unnumbered,
grant, we beseech Thee, that by his merits
and prayer we may be delivered from the
fire of hell. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two He covered His face, and with two He covered His feet, and with two He flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory." And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to come. And He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'
Prayers and Scripture Readings for Saint Nicholas Day
Collect for the Feast of Saint Nicholas
First reading: Isaiah 6:1-8
Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
Gospel reading: Luke 10:1-9
Saint Nicholas Day Baking Project
The following recipe, for "speculaas" (speculations) ginger cookies are served especially on Saint Nicholas Day. The recipe is from A Continual Feast, by Evelyn Birge Vitz (Ignatius Press), and is traditional in the Low Countries. (In America these cookies are called "windmills", usually embellished with almonds, and can be brought at the grocery store.)
This cookie dough may be cut into the shape of Saint Nicholas, following our pattern here, which can also be used for coloring. When cool, the cookies can be decorated with icing "paint" -- thinned icing colored with food coloring -- and applied with brushes.
This delicious ginger cookie might also be cut into other shapes, recalling other aspects of the kindly bishop's legendary life and work: such as the three young girls to whom he threw the three bags of gold for their doweries, or the three little boys whom he brought back to life, or the sailors whom he saved from the storm.
1 Cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Optional: powdered sugar for decorative icing
In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind.
Sift the spices and salt with the flour and baking powder, and stir gradually into the butter mixture. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight. (If you are in a hurry, start the chilling process in the freezer: leave the dough in the freezer for about 20 minutes.)
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch, or for larger figures to about 1/4 inch. Cut out with cookie cutters, or trace around a heavy paper pattern with a sharp knife. This dough can also be used with a cookie mold, or can be molded by hand.
Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. If you like you cookies soft, remove them from the oven when they are just set -- the longer the baking time, the crisper the cookie.
Optional: Paint when cool. These cookies especially when baked in the form of Saint Nicholas are fun to paint with colored icing.
In little pots or plastic containers, mix powdered sugar with a little bit of water (or lightly beaten egg white, or lemon juice) and a few drops of food coloring, to produce the desired shades and the desired consistency for painting. Apply with small paintbrushes.
Yield:: approximately 3 dozen cookies or fewer large figures.
ping for later
For the rest of his life, he'd be known as the man who got his ass beat by Santa Claus.
Santa sounds like a tough customer. Now I'm going to have to spend Christmas Eve wide awake in a darkened house, with a shotgun and a pair of night vision goggles.
If I remember right, when they examined his bones a few years ago they showed a man who had been in more than his share of fist fights!
I think I like the tough old Saint Nick better than pudgy Claus!
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