The tomb of St Nicholas, the bishop believed to be the inspiration behind ‘Santa Claus’, has been unearthed.
St Nicholas, who lived between 270 and 343, was a Christian bishop of Greek origin who famously gave to the poor.
While we have little confirmed information about his life, over the years there have been many stories about his generosity, with legend saying he once gifted three poor sisters a bag of coins each, having discretely thrown the gold into their bedrooms to avoid any embarrassment.
The tomb is located in St Nicholas Church in Demre, a town in the Antalya district of southern Turkey, but was covered by rising sea levels centuries ago – with another church built on top to protect it.
The later Byzantine church that had been built over the original foundations became a place of worship for Orthodox Christians between the 5th and 12th Century, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
It wasn’t until 2017 that signs of the original building were discovered, after electronic surveys revealed gaps between the floor and ground.
Experts have been working carefully to uncover the ancient site by removing the Byzantine church’s flooring, having now unearthed the ‘remains of the first church’ where ‘Saint Nicholas walked’.
Speaking last week, Osman Eravsar, the head of the provincial cultural heritage preservation board in Antalya, told Demirören News Agency: "The first church was submerged with the rise of the Mediterranean Sea, and some centuries later, a new church was built above.
"Now we have reached the remains of the first church and the floor on which Saint Nicholas stepped.
"The tiling of the floor of the first church, on which Saint Nicholas walked, has been unearthed."
According to Atlas Obscura, St Nicholas Church houses the tomb of the late saint, but not his remains – which were taken to Italy in 1087, where they remain to this day.
The travel site says: “When legend blends with history, facts and fiction become difficult to untangle.
“In this regard, few figures have achieved the legendary stature of Santa Claus. It is widely accepted that St Nicholas must have been the progenitor of the character who came to be known as Santa Claus.
“Though St. Nicholas likely looked nothing like the white-bearded, big-bellied man that is most common today, his propensity for giving away his wealth to people in need makes for a credible basis on which the image of Santa Claus developed.”
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