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The Historical Saint Nicholas
Part 3 of 3
The Death of St. Nicholas
Now when the Lord decided to take Nicholas to him, the
saint prayed that he might send him his angels, and, with his head still
bowed in prayer, he saw them approaching him. He recited the Psalm 'In
thee, O Lord, have I trusted' (Psalm 30 (31), and when he reached the
words: 'Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit' (v. 5), he breathed
his last, and at his passing, the heavenly choirs were heard. This was
in the year 343.
The Myrrh from the Bishop of Myra and The Bishop’s
When he was buried in his marble tomb, a stream of oil
flowed from his head and a stream of water from his feet, and holy oil
still issues from his body today and heals many sick people. Nicholas's
successor was a good man, but he was expelled from his see by the
jealousy of his rivals. While he was in exile, the holy oil stopped
flowing, but as soon as he was recalled it began to flow again.
Guace (or Wace), a Norman French scribe, wrote the life
of Nicholas as Metric Poems for use as sermons in 1150. The poem was
nearly 1500 lines long, and included descriptions of the 21 miracles of
the Saint. Ten of the most frequently repeated miracles have already
The Miracles of Infancy
The Three Daughters
Nicholas’ Election as Bishop
One Miracle Concerning Sailors
The Three Schoolboys
The Famine and the Grain
The Cleansing of the Temple of Diana
The Three Princes and The Three Soldiers
The Myrrh from the Bishop of Myra.
The Bishop’s Successor
Other reported miracles of Nicholas include:
In the excitement of going to see her archbishop, a
woman left her baby in a tub of water over a fire. Remembering, she
appealed to Nicholas and the baby was found unhurt, playing in the
A child, so afflicted by a demon as to be
uncontrollable, was brought to the bishop who drove out the demon
and healed the child.
The saint healed great numbers of the sick and freed
many from evil spirits.
A pagan who had crossed the sea to rob Christians
found an image of St. Nicholas and was told it would protect his
ill-gotten gains. However, thieves stole his loot, so he struck the
image of the saint. Nevertheless, the saint saw to it that the
monies were returned, and both robber and thieves were converted to
A Christian borrowed money from a Jew and pledged
repayment on the image of St. Nicholas. When the debt was due, he
declared he had paid it. The Jew said he would consider the debt
satisfied if, at their next meeting, the debtor would swear on the
saint's image that the money had been returned. On the day of the
meeting the Christian enclosed the money due in a walking stick and
asked the Jew to hold it while he took the oath. Retrieving the
stick, he started homeward only to be struck by a cart, which broke
the stick and exposed the fraud. The Jew got his money, the
Christian was returned to health and integrity, and the Jew's entire
household was converted.
Fulfilling a vow, a man had a costly cup made to
offer at the saint's tomb. Then, considering it too beautiful to
give, he had a cheaper one made. With his wife and son he went on a
pilgrimage to Myra, and on the voyage his son, while holding the
finer cup, fell overboard. At the church, the bereaved father laid
the second cup on the altar, but it repeatedly fell off. The
repentant father confessed, causing the son with the finer cup to
come running to him.
A long-married couple made a pilgrimage to Myra to
pray for a son. Their prayers were answered. The child, who was born
on St. Nicholas Day, was later stolen and sold to the Saracen
emperor and grew up in his service. Every December 6 the couple
prayed for his return until finally their prayers were answered.
Their son was returned to them on St. Nicholas Day.
While sleeping at an inn, the innkeeper killed a
merchant on a pilgrimage to the church at Myra, his mangled remains
put into a barrel. The saint came, restored the merchant to life,
and left in the night. The next morning the innkeeper, in fear and
amazement, joined the merchant on his pilgrimage.
A man of Lombardie celebrated the saint's feast day
annually. On one such occasion, his young daughter was left alone in
the house. The devil appeared at the door disguised as a beggar
asking for bread and strangled the little girl. Then, after the
father had returned, St. Nicholas appeared at the door disguised as
a pilgrim asking for bread. The father showed him the child's body,
and she was soon brought back to life.
A baron-pilgrim, wishing to take back to his country
a relic of the saint, made off with a tooth. Through its wrappings
came a steady flow of oil. Then, after the saint appeared to the
baron in a dream saying that his body must not be divided, he awoke
to find the tooth gone.
A paralytic who could not even raise his hand was
carried to the monastery of the saint, who anointed him with holy
oils and prayed--and he was healed.
Churches in Asia Minor and Greece were being named in
honor of him by 450.
An elaborate Basilica was built over his tomb in 540 and
dedicated to the saint by the Roman emperor Justinian I, at
Constantinople, now Istanbul.
800, he was officially recognized as a saint by the Eastern Catholic
Church. An early life of St. Nicholas listing all his miracles, was
written in Greek by Saint Methodius, Bishop of Constantinople in 842; it
was translated into Latin by John the Deacon in approximately 880. And
in 850, the Clergy of Cologne Cathedral were commemorating the death of
the saint by giving fruit and cookies to the boys of the cathedral
school, on the 6th December. By the ninth century, the first hymns to
Nicholas were created.
Nicholas became Patron Saint of Russia in 987 by decree
of Duke Vladimir; he was readily adopted as Nikolai Choodovoritz (Nicholas,
In 1084, the Turks took Antioch. Three years later, in
1087, 47 Italian soldiers stole the bones of St. Nicholas from his tomb
in Demre and on May 9th brought his body to Bari, Italy (for
this reason he is sometimes known as Saint Nicholas of Bari.). The theft
was unofficially approved by the Church, which was anxious in case the
shrine of the saint was desecrated in the many wars and attacks in the
region. Also, by that time, the break between the Universal Church
creating Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, was a contributing factor.
The Roman Church felt that the bones of this most popular of saints
should be in their safekeeping. This removal greatly increased his
popularity, and Bari became one of the most crowded pilgrimage centers.
His relics remain enshrined in the 11th-century Basilica of S. Nicola at
Bari. Pope Urban II was present at the enshrining of the relics of the
saint in the basilica.
Life of St. Nicholas written by the Norman monk
John (or Jean) of Saint Ouen in Rouen in 1119. At about the same time,
nuns in Belgium and France were giving gifts to the children of the
poor, and those in their care, on the Saints Feast Day, 6th December.
This is among the first instances where gift giving is performed in the
name of Saint Nicholas.
Hilarius, who studied under Peter Abelard, wrote the
first 'musical' play about Nicholas in 1200. And in the 1200s, December
sixth began to be celebrated as Bishop Nicholas Day in France.
In the late 1200s, Jacobus de Voragine put together
The Golden Legend, a compilation of the lives of the saints,
including a section on Saint Nicholas. The Golden Legend, with
numerous additions by later writers, formed the basis for many of the
‘historical’ works concerning Nicholas and other saints.
By 1400, over 500 songs and hymns had been written in
honor of Nicholas. And in 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti on
December 6th, naming the port St. Nicholas in thanks for the safe
journey. By end of the 1400s, St Nicholas was the third most beloved
religious figure, after Jesus and Mary. There were more than 2000
chapels and monasteries named after him, exceeded only by the Virgin
Mary. More than 700 churches in Britain alone, were dedicated to St.
In the Americas, St. Nicholas played an early and
prominent role. The cathedral of the Vikings in Greenland was dedicated
to Nicholas. Jacksonville, Florida under the Spanish was first known as
St. Nicholas Ferry.
Devotion to Nicholas extended to all parts of the world;
his name has been given to places in many countries; numerous surnames
of persons are derived from Nicholas. He has been the patron saint:
of Russia and Greece, of Moscow, Paris, and Fribourg
of pilgrims and preachers, infants and children,
orphans, scholars and students, and spinsters;
of sailors and seamen, fishermen, boatmen, ferrymen,
longshoremen, bargemen, plankmen, dockers, shipwrights and gaugers,
navigators, sea voyagers, and those in shipwreck;
of thieves, prisoners, registrars, notaries, clerks
of court, lawyers, and judges;
of bakers, pawnbrokers, merchants and shopkeepers;
of those involved in the cloth trade and allied
professions including button makers, lace makers, weavers, shearmen,
drapers, haberdashers and cloth merchants;
of tallow merchants and candle makers, chandlers and
oil merchants, perfumers, bottlers, florists and embalmers,
pharmacists and apothecaries;
of commission grain dealers and merchants, seed
merchants, grain carriers, weighers, millers, grocers and brewers;
of wine porters, wine merchants and wine vendors,
coopers and brewers;
of tanners and butchers;
As patron saint of sailors, his effigy was the
figurehead of many ships, and thus his cult spread from Asia Minor to
Italy, Spain, Holland and Britain (and later to the New World).
His miracles were a favorite subject for medieval
artists and liturgical plays, and his traditional feast day of December
6th was the occasion for the ceremonies of the Boy Bishop, a
widespread European custom in which a boy was elected Bishop and reigned
until Holy Innocents' Day (December 28).
Over time, the date of his death, December 6th was
commemorated with an annual feast, which gradually came to mark the
beginning of the medieval Christmas season.
Collections of Christmas Carols & Poetry
Compiled and Edited by
Douglas D. Anderson
A Christmas Poetry Collection
A Christmas Poetry Collection
The Bridegroom Cometh
Poetry For The Advent
by Doug Anderson
Lovely Shining Star
A Christmas Poetry Collection
So Gracious Is The Time
A Christmas Poetry Collection
Still The Night
The Christmas Poems of Father Andrew, S.D.C.
Christmas Poems by Frances and William Havergal
Now, Now The Mirth Comes
Christmas Poetry by Robert Herrick
What Sudden Blaze Of Song
The Christmas Poems of Rev. John Keble
A Holy Heavenly Chime
The Christmastide Poems of Christina
Heart This Night Rejoices
The Christmas Poems of Catherine Winkworth
Victorian Carol Book
Favorites from the 19th Century —
Still favorites today!
Other Books by Doug Anderson
A Psalter – A Book of the Psalms Arranged by Luther's Categories
Betbüchlein: A Personal Prayer Book, a
recreation of Luther's 1529 prayer book
Luther's Writings on Prayer: A Selection
Devotions for the Advent – 2009
The Lenten Sermons of Martin Luther, Second Edition
Descriptions of all these volumes can be seen at
Books by Doug
The Hymns and Carols of Christmas
Douglas D. Anderson
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Majorem Dei Gloriam