Forget Black Friday, Amazon, and the other manifestations of the modern Christmas spirit. Santa is real. Or he was, anyhow. Archeologists say they may have discovered the tomb of the man known as Saint Nicholas. The tomb, in a temple hidden underneath a church in Demre, in southwestern Turkey — that’s 3,700 miles from the North Pole, by the way — was discovered during a 20-year archeological excavation of the church.
“The world’s eyes will be set on here. We claim that St Nicholas has been kept in this temple without any damage. We are at the last stage. If we get the results, Antalya’s tourism will gain big momentum,” said Cemil Karabayram, Antalya Director of Surveying and Monuments. The tomb is surrounded by inscribed stones and mosaics that must be painstakingly scaled and removed before the researchers can reach the contents inside.
Saint Nicholas, also known as Nikolaos of Myra, lived in the 4th century and was revered for his generosity, particularly to children, which gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus. He is considered the patron saint of children (and also of the less heartwarming brewers, sailors, pawnbrokers and repentant thieves). He was born in Patara, Lycia, in the year 270 to wealthy Christian parents who died young, leaving him in the care of his uncle, the bishop of Patara, who continued his religious education. Nikolas became the bishop of Myra, and his good deeds grew in legend after his death in December of 343, ultimately influencing the development of Christianity and the role of Santa Claus in popular culture.
Nicholas’ tomb in Myra has been a popular tourist attraction for centuries, and his remains were the target of theft and relocation during the various wars affecting the region. In 1087, his remains were seized by sailors during a raid on the church and brought to Bari, Italy, either as a prize sought by thieves or to protect them from Muslim invaders, according to various versions of the story. A church was built in Bari to house the remains, and the Basilica di San Nicola has been a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. But it could be possible that Nicholas never left Turkey.
Archeologists cite documents that support that theory. “We studied all of the documents from between 1942 and 1966. There were some notes there. According to these notes, this church was demolished and rebuilt. During the reconstruction, traders in Bari took the bones. But it is said that these bones did not belong to St. Nicholas but to another priest,” said Karabayram.
These documents led the researchers to look deeper into the church site. Technology, including a CT scan and geo-radar evaluations of the building site, revealed a hidden temple underneath the church, with a special section with the dimensions and other markers of a tomb. Excavations are ongoing, and it remains to be seen what remains may be hidden inside this long-secret place.
Wherever his bones may lie, the reminder that Santa is dead is an uncomfortable reckoning for a troubled world that counts on his goodness and generosity. The reminder that he was born in Turkey is also troubling for those who, like Megyn Kelly, insist that he is white, or those, like the officials at the Mall of America, who present a Black Santa. In reality, Santa was Middle-Eastern, most likely brown-skinned.