Saint Dominic's Catholic Church, Torrance

Saint Nicholas Of Bari

Who was St. Nicholas of Bari?
The Basilica of Bari is dedicated to St. Nicholas, a holy bishop from Myra in Asia Minor (now Turkey) who lived during the reign of the Emperor Constantine (306-337 A.D.). From his life, written in the 4th-5th centuries, only one chapter, the Praxis de Stratelatis, exists in its complete form, recalling the intervention of St. Nicholas on behalf of three Myrans condemned to death and of three Roman officials imprisoned in Constantinople. His participation in the Council of Nicaea (325) was documented by the Byzantine historian Theodore the Lector around 515 A.D. Other stories of the Saint, such as the dowry of the three poor girls (symbolised by the three golden balls on the Gospel) had been passed down through the oral tradition of Myra and were collected by Michael the Archimandrite in the 8th century. Apart from the many tales about the Saint's acts he also remains the symbol of charity and defender of the weak. St. Nicholas is greatly revered throughout the Orthodox world, especially in Russia where not only the universal feast day of December 6th is celebrated, but also the 9th of May as in Bari (in commemoration of the transfer of his relics to Bari in 1087).

A fuller account of the life of Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara.
At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals - murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value - a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.


Saint Nicholas
One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbeare, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy for her.
However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra.
Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children - which became his primary role in the West.
Another story tells of three theological students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their remains in a large pickling tub. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at this very inn. In the night he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly to God the three boys were restored to life and wholeness.
In France the story is told of three small children, wandering in their play until lost, lured, and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families. And so St. Nicholas is the patron and protector of children.

Several stories tell of Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus' life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.

Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as a wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons - children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.

Sailors, claiming St. Nicholas as patron, carried stories of his favor and protection far and wide. St. Nicholas chapels were built in many seaports. As his popularity spread during the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Following his baptism in Constantinople, Vladimir I of Russia brought St. Nicholas' stories and devotion to St. Nicholas to his homeland where Nicholas became the most beloved saint. Nicholas was so widely revered that more than 2,000 churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

Nicholas' tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. There were both religious and commercial advantages in having a major pilgrimage site, so the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe's great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as "Saint in Bari." To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari's great Basilica di San Nicola.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor - and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.


Another account of the life of Saint Nicholas

SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA BISHOP, CONFESSOR C. 342
Feast: December 6

The veneration with which this saint has been honored in both East and West, the number of altars and churches erected in his memory, and the countless stories associated with his name all bear witness to something extraordinary about him. Yet the one fact concerning the life of Nicholas of which we can be absolutely certain is that he was bishop of Myra in the fourth century. According to tradition, he was born at Patara, Lycia, a province of southern Asia Minor where St. Paul had planted the faith. Myra, the capital, was the seat of a bishopric founded by St. Nicander. The accounts of Nicholas given us by the Greek Church all say that he was imprisoned in the reign of Diocletian, whose persecutions, while they lasted, were waged with great severity. Some twenty years after this he appeared at the Council of Nicaea to join in the condemnation of Arianism. We are also informed that he died at Myra and was buried in his cathedral. Such a wealth of literature has accumulated around Nicholas that we are justified in giving a brief account of some of the popular traditions, which in the main date from medieval times. St. Methodius, patriarch of Constantinople towards the middle of the ninth century, wrote a life of the saint in which he declares that "up to the present the life of the distinguished shepherd has been unknown to the majority of the faithful." Nearly five hundred years had passed since the death of the good St. Nicholas, and Methodius' account, therefore, had to be based more on legend than actual fact.
He was very well brought up, we are told, by pious and virtuous parents, who set him to studying the sacred books at the age of five. His parents died while he was still young, leaving him with a comfortable fortune, which he resolved to use for works of charity. Soon an opportunity came. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money and his three daughters could not find husbands because of their poverty. In despair their wretched father was about to commit them to a life of shame. When Nicholas heard of this, he took a bag of gold and at night tossed it through an open window of the man's house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl, and she was quickly married. Nicholas did the same for the second and then for the third daughter. On the last occasion the father was watching by the window, and overwhelmed his young benefactor with gratitude.

It happened that Nicholas was in the city of Myra when the clergy and people were meeting together to elect a new bishop, and God directed them to choose him. This was at the time of Diocletian's persecutions at the beginning of the fourth century. The Greek writers go on to say that now, as leader, "the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with other Christians. But when the great and religious Constantine, chosen by God, assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas." St. Methodius adds that "thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison." He does not speak of Nicholas' presence at the Council of Nicaea, but according to other traditions he was not only there but went so far in his indignation as to slap the arch-heretic Arius in the face! At this, they say, he was deprived of his episcopal insignia and imprisoned, but Our Lord and His Mother appeared and restored to him both his liberty and his office. Nicholas also took strong measures against paganism. He tore down many temples, among them one to the Greek goddess Artemis, which was the chief pagan shrine of the district.

Nicholas was also the guardian of his people in temporal affairs. The governor had been bribed to condemn three innocent men to death. On the day fixed for their execution Nicholas stayed the hand of the executioner and released them. Then he turned to the governor and reproved him so sternly that he repented. There happened to be present that day three imperial officers, Nepotian, Ursus, and Herpylion, on their way to duty in Phrygia. Later, after their return, they were imprisoned on false charges of treason by the prefect and an order was procured from the Emperor Constantine for their death. In their extremity they remembered the bishop of Myra's passion for justice and prayed to God for his intercession. That night Nicholas appeared to Constantine in a dream, ordering him to release the three innocent officers. The prefect had the same dream, and in the morning the two men compared their dreams, then questioned the accused officers. On learning that they had prayed for the intervention of Nicholas, Constantine freed them and sent them to the bishop with a letter asking him to pray for the peace of the world. In the West the story took on more and more fantastic forms; in one version the three officers eventually became three boys murdered by an innkeeper and put into a brine tub from which Nicholas rescued them and restored them to life.

The traditions all agree that Nicholas was buried in his episcopal city of Myra. By the time of Justinian, some two centuries later, his feast was celebrated and there was a church built over his tomb. The ruins of this domed basilica, which stood in the plain where the city was built, were excavated in the nineteenth century. The tremendous popularity of the saint is indicated by an anonymous writer of the tenth century who declares: "The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the farthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are erected in his honor." In 1034 Myra was taken by the Saracens. Several Italian cities made plans to get possession of the relics of the famous Nicholas. The citizens of Bari finally in 1087 carried them off from the lawful Greek custodians and their Moslem masters. A new church was quickly built at Bari and Pope Urban II was present at the enshrining of the relics. Devotion to St. Nicholas now increased and many miracles were attributed to his intercession.

The image of St. Nicholas appeared often on Byzantine seals. Artists painted him usually with the three boys in a tub or else tossing a bag of gold through a window. In the West he has often been invoked by prisoners, and in the East by sailors. One legend has it that during his life-time he appeared off the coast of Lycia to some storm-tossed mariners who invoked his aid, and he brought them safely to port. Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas had their "star of St. Nicholas" and wished one another safe voyages with the words, "May St. Nicholas hold the tiller."

From the legend of the three boys may have come the tradition of his love for children, celebrated in both secular and religious observances. In many places there was once a year a ceremonious installation of a "boy bishop." In Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands gifts were bestowed on children at Christmas time in St. Nicholas' name. The Dutch Protestant settlers of New Amsterdam made the custom popular on this side of the Atlantic. The Eastern saint was converted into a Nordic magician (Saint Nicholas—Sint Klaes—Santa Claus). His popularity was greatest of all in Russia, where he and St. Andrew were joint national patrons. There was not a church that did not have some sort of shrine in honor of St. Nicholas and the Russian Orthodox Church observes even the feast of the translation of his relics. So many Russian pilgrims came to Bari in Czarist times that the Russian government maintained a church, a hospital, and a hospice there. St. Nicholas is also patron of Greece, Apulia, Sicily, and Lorraine, of many cities and dioceses. At Rome the basilica of St. Nicholas was founded as early as the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. In the later Middle Ages four hundred churches were dedicated to him in England alone. St. Nicholas' emblems are children, a mitre, a vessel.


The Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari

Link to the official website for Saint Nicholas in Bari


 
God BlessYou!