Turkish archeologists announced that they may have discovered the bones of St. Nicholas, the saint better known to the world as Santa Claus. The remains were unearthed beneath a 4th-century structure in Demre (ancient Myra), the traditional location of Nicholas’ birth. The discovery of St. Nicholas raises a whole host of unpleasant bedtime questions. If Santa is buried in Turkey, who has been delivering the presents?
The discovery was made after digital analysis of the ground beneath the church. Archaeologists currently believe that the tomb has gone undisturbed since antiquity, but the mosaics on the floor make it difficult to excavate there. Cemril Karabayram, the head of Antalya’s Monument Authority, explained that specialists are unable to confirm the story until the floor of the church (which depicts scenes from the life of Nicholas of Myra) can be carefully removed.
For locals of Demre, the inaccessibility of the tomb has some advantages. Until recently it was believed that the bones of St. Nick had been interred in a sarcophagus in the main church. In 1071 the tomb was raided by (other) Christians who sought to save the relics from the conquering Muslim Seljuq Turks by moving them to Southern Italy. A mere 16 years later, Italian sailors stole the bones and took them to Bari. To this day Italian Christians venerate the bones of St. Nicholas at the Basilica di San Nicola, where rumors swirled that the marble tomb excreted sweet-smelling “manna.” The liquid that dripped from the tomb was believed by many to be cure-all and was bottled for sale to pilgrims. It turned out to be water. Excavations in the 1950s revealed that the skeleton of “Nicholas” was resting in a pool of water, but the mechanics of the secretion remained debated (some argue it’s fraud, others that the stone tomb absorbs water from the ground and redistributes it to the tomb). But if the bones in the tomb under the church turn out to be those of Nicholas, then the Italian sailors stole fake relics. The bones of Nicholas would bring tourist dollars to the region (an early Christmas gift for people in Turkey).