Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas of Myra (Dec. 6)

Nicholas of Myra (6 December A.D. 343) 

Nicholas was Bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey), and died 6 December 343 CE.  He is known to have suffered torture and imprisonment during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian, and likely was one of the holy fathers attending the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, which sought to resolve the Athanasian and Arian controversy over the nature of Christ's divinity.

Manifold popular legends about Nicholas, whose name in Greek means "Victory to the People," ensured that he would be seen as an intercessor for those in need of help, especially children and the exploited.

One story recounts that during a terrible famine,  a greedy and hurtful butcher lures three young boys into his house, where he slaughters and butchers them, putting their body parts in a barrel of brine to cure, hoping to make hams for sale.  Saint Nicholas, arriving to care for his hungry flock, immediately recognizes what had happened.  He then proceeds miraculously to reconstitute, reconstruct, and raise from the dead the three boys, bringing the Sweeney Todd-like butcher to repentance in one version, or a horrible and just punishment and death in another.

In the most well-known legend,  a man has three daughters whom he cannot marry off because he is too poor to pay a dowry, and in desperation is on the point of having the girls become prostitutes as a means of providing money for their food.  Nicholas, hearing the tale, arrives by night (to save the man public humiliation of accepting assistance) and throws three bags of gold, or three coins, over the wall to provide the girls with dowries.  The three bags have become the three spheres marking pawn shops, and the night-visiting savior of children or giver of gifts to children has become Sinterklaas or Santa Claus.

In another story, the Bishop asks for grain from a ship in port to help feed the starving city.  When the ship finally arrives at its destination, the original weight of the grain is still in the holds, despite the substantial gift. 

Nicholas is thus the patron and protector of sailors and children, as well as merchants, archers, students, thieves, prostitutes, and (perhaps through reputational transference from these last two) broadcasters.  He is patron of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Georgia, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal. 


Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


  1. Last year I had my first directing experience with a brief play by a local fellow playwright, "St. Nicholas is Real." The plot is about where the money came from for the three girls. The story is that Nicholas, was a lawyer, had advocated for General Virius Nepotianus, before the emporer and saved his life. The three bags of gold were Virius's payment.
    We needed more lines for the girls, so I made up this little song as an intro:

    Ring around the rosy
    A pocket full of posies
    Crosses, crosses,
    High up in the sky.

    Ring around the rosy
    A pocket full of posies
    Nicholas, Nicholas
    We all bow down.

  2. I would love to know who painted the image of St Nicholas above that has St Nicholas of Myra painted on it. I love that

    1. The artist is James Christensen. See http://www.world-wide-art.com/James_Christensen/St_Nicolas_of_Myra/vaid20069.html