Nicholas of Myra, St.
NICHOLAS OF MYRA, ST.
Bishop of Myra in Lycia, first half of the fourth century, but often called Nicholas of Bari (Italy). No historically trustworthy evidence of his ancestry or the events of his life exists, except for the fact of his episcopate. Legends have him born in the Lycian town of Patara, imprisoned in the Diocletian persecution, and present at the Council of Nicaea I, and fix his death date at 345 or 352. justinian i built a church in his honor in the early sixth century (Procopius, De aedificiis 1.6), and Basil the Macedonian, an oratory in the imperial palace about 870. In the West, the first pope to bear his name built a basilica in his honor in the Lateran (c. 860). His cult was brought to Germany by the Byzantine Princess Theophano, wife of Otto II (973–983). It came to Italy with the theft in 1087 of his body by Italian soldiers and its "translation" to Bari. More than 2,000 churches are dedicated to him in France and Germany, and about 400 in England. Russia, Sicily, Lorraine, and Greece honor him as patron. The principal miracle-legends deal with his liberation of three unjustly imprisoned officers; his secret provision of dowries for three poor girls; and his deliverance of three innocent youths condemned to death. The oldest documentary evidence of the Nicholas legends is an eleventh-century manuscript in Karlsruhe Library. The dowry legend was combined in Germany with local folklore to make St. Nicholas into the bringer, on the eve of his feast, of secret presents for children; in the English-speaking countries his name was corrupted into Santa Claus, and the legend became associated with Christmas Eve.
Feast: Dec. 6; May 9 (translation of relics to Bari).
Bibliography: g. anrich, Hagios Nikolaos, 2 v. (Leipzig 1913–17). c. w. jones, The Saint Nicholas Liturgy and Its Literary Relationships (Berkeley 1963); Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan (Chicago 1978). m. ebon, Saint Nicholas: Life and Legend (New York 1975). c. mÉchin, Saint Nicholas: fêtes et traditions populaires d'hier et d'aujourd'hui (Paris 1978). o. jodogne, ed., Miracle de saint Nicolas et d'un juif (Geneva 1982). a. von euw, Sankt Nikolaus kommt auf Besuch (Lucerne 1983), legends. n. p. sevcenko, The Life of Saint Nicholas in Byzantine Art (Turin 1983). e. g. clare, St. Nicholas: His Legends and Iconography (Florence 1985). a. arens, Untersuchungen zu Jean Bodels Mirakel "Le jeu de Saint Nicolas" (Stuttgart 1986). l. martino, Le reliquie di S. Nicola (Bari 1987). r. ghesquiere, Van Nicolaas van Myra tot Sinterklaas (Leuven 1989). i. andreev, The Miracles of Saint Nicholas (Sofia 1993). w. mezger, Sankt Nikolaus: zwischen Kult und Klamauk (Ostfildern 1993). a. shepard, The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale (New York 1995). e. m. treharne, The Old English Life of St Nicholas with the Old English Life of St Giles (Leeds, UK 1997).
[a. g. gibson]