Nicholas (St) of Myra
Nicholas (St.) Of Myra
(Lat. Sanctus Nicholaus; Ital. San Niccolo, or Nicola di Bari; Ger. Der Heilige Nikolaus, or Niklas), a highly popular saint of the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Italy, and reverenced still with greater devotion by the Eastern Church, and particularly the Russian Church, which regards him as a special patron, is generally supposed to have been one of the early bishops of Myra, in Lycia. Very few historical data are accessible regarding the personal history of this saint. There was a bishop of the name of Nicholas much venerated in the East as early .as the 6th century; a church was dedicated to him in Constantinople about A.D. 560. The precise date of his episcopate is a subject of much controversy. According to the popular account, he was a confessor of the faith in the last persecution under Maximinian. and having survived until the Council of Nice, was one of the bishops who took part in that great assembly. ῥ This, however, seems. highly improbable. His name .does not occur among the signatures to the decrees, nor is he mentioned along with the other distinguished confessors of the faith who were present at the council, either by the historians or, what is more important, by St. Athanasius. He may with more probability be referred to a later period; but he certainly lived prior to the reign of Justinian, in whose time several of the churches of Constantinople were dedicated to St. Nicholas. His great popularity and the devotion paid him rest mainly on the traditions, both in the West and in the East, of the many miracles wrought through his intercession. In the Greek Church he ranks next to the great fathers. In the West he began to be reverenced in the 10th century, and since the 12th has been one of the most popular of the saints in all Catholic Europe. What the historical records do not furnish is more than supplied by tradition. The stories of St. Nicholas are numberless, and many of them have even been treated in art. According to these legends Nicholas was born of illustrious Christian parents, when they had been many years married without having children; and it was thought that this son was given by God as a reward for the alms which they had bestowed upon the Church and the poor, as well as for the prayers they had offered up. Their home was in Panthera, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. The very day of his birth this wonderful child arose in his bath, and, joining hands, praised God that he had brought him into the world. And from the same day he would only take the breast on Wednesday and Friday, thus knowing how to fast from the time he knew hunger. On account of his holy disposition his parents early dedicated him to the service of the Church. While still young Nicholas lost both father and mother, and he regarded himself as but God's steward over the vast wealth. of which He was possessed, and he did many noble acts of charity. At length he determined to go to Palestine. On the voyage a sailor fell overboard and was drowned, but St. Nicholas recovered him and restored his life; and when a storm arose, and they were about to perish, the sailors fell at his feet and implored him to save them, and as he prayed the storm went down. After his return from Palestine Nicholas dwelt in the city of Myra, where he lived unknown in great humility. At length the bishop of Myra died, and a revelation was made to the clergy to the effect that the first man who should come to church the next morning was the man whom God had chosen for their bishop. So when Nicholas came early to church to pray, as was his custom, the clergy led him into the church and consecrated him bishop. He showed himself well worthy of the dignity in every way, but especially by his charities, which were beyond account. Many acts of such wonderful import are told of him that they may well be believed to be the inspiration of an enthusiastic mind. At one time Constantine sent certain tribunes to put down a rebellion in Phrygia. On their journey they stopped at Myra, and Nicholas invited them to his table; but as they. were to take their seats he heard that the prefect was about to execute three innocent men, and the people were greatly moved thereat. Then Nicholas hastened to the place of execution, followed by his guests. When he arrived the men were already kneeling, with their eyes bound, and the executioner was ready with his sword. St. Nicholas seized his sword, and commanded the men to be released. The tribunes looked on in wonder, but no one dared resist the good bishop. Even the prefect sought the saint's pardon, which was granted after much hesitation. After this, when the tribunes went their way, they did not forget St. Nicholas, for it happened that while they were absent in Phrygia their enemies poisoned the mind of Constantine against them, so that when they were returned to Constantinople he accused them of treason, and threw them into prison, ordering their execution the next day. Then these tribunes called upon St.
Nicholas, and prayed him to deliver them. That same night he appeared to Constantinople in a dream, and commanded him to release those whom he had imprisoned, and threatened him with God's wrath if he obeyed not. Constantine not only released them, but sent them to Myra to thank St. Nicholas, and to present him with a copy of the Gospels, which was written in letters of gold, and bound in covers set with pearls aid rare jewels. Also certain sailors who were in danger of shipwreck on the AEgean Sea called upon Jesus to deliver them, for the sake of St. Nicholas, and immediately the saint appeared to them, saying, "Lo! here I am, my sons; put your trust in God, whose servant I am, and ye shall be saved.' The sea became calm, and he took them into a safe harbor. Hence those who are in peril invoke this saint, and seek aid from him. His life was spent in doing all manner of good works; and when he died, it was in great peace and joy, and he was buried in a magnificent church in Myra. The miracles attributed to St. Nicholas after his death were quite as marvelous as those he is said to have performed while vet alive. Thus we are told, for example, that a man who greatly desired to have a son made a vow that, if this wish could be realized, the first time he took his child to church he would give a cup of gold to the altar of St. Nicholas. The son was granted, and the father ordered a cup to be made; but when it was finished it was so beautiful that he decided to retain it for his own use, and had another less valuable made for St. Nicholas. At length he went on the journey necessary to accomplish his vow, and while on the way he ordered the little child to bring him water in the cup which he had taken for himself. In obeying his father the boy fell into the water and was drowned. Then the father sorely repented of his covetousness, and repaired to the church of St. Nicholas, and offered the second cup; but when it was placed upon the altar it fell off and rolled on the ground, and 'this it did the second and third time; and while all looked on amazed, behold! the drowned child stood on the steps of the altar with the beautiful cup in his hand; and he told how. St. Nicholas had rescued him from death, and brought him there. Then the joyful father made an offering of both cups, and returned home full of gratitude to the good St. Nicholas. This story has often been told in prose and poetry, as well as represented in art. Again; a Jew of Calabria, having heard of all the wonderful deeds of St. Nicholas, stole his image from the church, and set it up in his own house. Whenever he left his house he put the care of his goods in the hands of the saint, and threatened that if anything should befall them in his absence he would chastise the saint on his return. One day the robbers came and stole his treasures. Then the Jew beat the image, and cut it also. That night St. Nicholas appeared to the robbers all wounded and bleeding, and commanded them to restore what they had stolen; and they, being afraid at the vision, did as he bade them. Then the Jew was converted by this miracle, and was baptized. Another rich-Christian merchant, who dwelt in a pagan country, had an only son who was made a captive, and was obliged to serve the king of the country as a cup-bearer. One day, as he filled the king's cup, remembering that it was St. Nicholas's day, he wept. Then the king demanded the cause of his grief, and when the young man told him, he answered, "Great as is thy St. Nicholas, he cannot save thee from my hand!" Instantly the palace was shaken by a whirlwind, and St. Nicholas appeared and caught the youth by the hair, and set him in the midst of his own family, with the king's cup still in his hand. It happened that at the very moment when he arrived his father was giving food to the poor, and asking their prayers for his captive son. It is necessary to keep these traditions in mind when regarding the pictures of St. Nicholas, for in two different pictures there appears a boy with a cup, so that it is important to distinguish them by the accessories. Sometimes it is a daughter who is rescued from captivity. The tomb of St. Nicholas was a famous resort for pilgrims for centuries. In 807 the church was attacked by Achmet, commander of the fleet of Harun Al Raschid. But the watchfulness of the monks prevented him from doing harm, and, putting to sea; he and his whole fleet were destroyed in punishment for their sacrilegious attempt. The remains of the saint rested in Myra until 1084, although several attempts were made by different cities. and churches to possess themselves of these sacred (?) relics. At length, in the year mentioned, some merchants of Bari, who traded on the coast of Syria, resolved to obtain the remains of which they had heard such great wonders. At this time Myra was desolated by the Saracens, and the ruined church was guarded by three monks. The remains were taken without difficulty and carried safely to Bari, where a splendid church was erected for their resting-place. The Venetians, however, claim that they have the true relics of St. Nicholas, brought home by Venetian merchants in 1100. But the claims of Bari are generally acknowledged, and the saint is frequently mentioned as St. Nicholas of Bari.
It is a curious fact that in the Russian Church the anniversary of Nicholas's translation to Bari is still observed as a festival on May 9th. In Greek pictures he is represented like a Greek bishop, with no mitre, the cross in place of the crosier, and the persons of the Trinity embroidered on his cope. In Western art he has the bishop's dress, the mitre, the cope very much ornamented, and the crosier and jeweled gloves. His attributes are three balls, which are on the book at his feet or in his lap. They are said to represent the three purses which he threw into the window of a poor nobleman, or three loaves of bread, emblematic of his feeding the poor; or, again, the persons of the Trinity. The first interpretation is the most general. SEE NICHOLAS OF TOLENTINO. He is chief patron of Russia, patron of Bari, Venice, and Freiburg, as well as many other towns and cities, numbers of them being seaport places. He is regarded in Roman Catholic countries as the especial patron of the young, and particularly of scholars. In England his feast was celebrated in ancient times with great solemnity in the public schools, Eton, Sarum Cathedral, and elsewhere; and a curious practice, founded upon this characteristic of St. Nicholas, still subsists in some countries, especially in Germany. On the vigil of his feast, which is held on December 6, a person in the appearance and costume of a bishop assembles the children of a family or of a school, and distributes among them, to the good children gilt nuts, sweetmeats, and other little presents, as the reward of good conduct; to the naughty ones the redoubtable punishment of the "Klallbauf." Numberless biographical sketches and narratives of his miraculous deeds abound. Some of them are in printed, others in MS. form. The most noteworthy are, Leonis imperat. orat. gr. prod. (Tolos. 1644); Andrece Cretensis inter ejusdem' orationes Lat. (ed. Combefis); Vita et Metaphraste, et allis collecta a Leonardo Justiniano, tom. i, ap. Lipom et ap. Surium, 6 Dec.; Nicolai Studitfe, in tom. ii A uctar. novi. Combefis. For other notices, especially those in MS. form, see Fabricius, Bibl. Grceca (ed. Harl.), 10:298; 11:292; and Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, 6:760, 765, 952. See also Ceillier. Histoire des Auteurs Sacres, 11:347 et al.;. Stanley, Lect. on the Hist. of the East. Ch. p. 200, 224; Clement; Hand-book of Legendary and Mythological Art, s.v.; Broughton, Bibliotheca Historica Sacra, vol. ii, s.v.; Brand, Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, 1:415-31.