Turkey wants Santa’s bones

The original tomb of St. Nicholas in Myra/Demre The original Santa Claus, the third century Saint Nicholas, was born and died in what is now Demre, Turkey. In his day it was the Hellenistic Lycian city of Myra and he was its bishop. He was known for leaving gifts for the needy, like gold coins in shoes left outside people’s doors, even climbing down a chimney once to leave a gift.

He was buried in Myra, as per his request, and there he remained for centuries. In 1087, sailors from the Italian city of Bari took advantage of the chaos from invading Seljuk Turks to abscond with St. Nicholas’ bones, over the vociferous objections of the Orthodox monks caring for them. They claimed they had a vision from St. Nick himself, to preserve his remains from the Muslim invader; others claimed they were just thieving pirates.

Tomb of St. Nicholas in BariThe bones were re-interred in a church in Bari, where they’ve been ever since. Now Turkey is considering asking for them back. Turkey is primarily Muslim so they don’t worship him as a saint, but they certainly appreciate his tourism value.

Prof Nevzat Cevik, head of archaeological research in Demre, says Saint Nicholas had made it clear during his life that he wanted to be buried in his home town.

Even without the bones, the town of Demre has not been shy about cashing in on its most famous native son – today visitors to the Byzantine church there are greeted by a large, plastic Santa statue, complete with beard and red snow-suit.

Classy. I can see how they might want something a little more upmarket, especially since St. Nicholas’ remains are said to exude a rose watery myrrh kind of substance called manna which is collected every year on December 6th, his saint day, and sold at the church gift shop.

The bones have been scientifically examined only once, in the 1950s. They found a largely intact skeleton of a small man — about 5 feet tall, short even back then — with a broken nose. No explanation of the manna thing, but Bari is a seaside town and he is buried in a crypt below sea level, so there could be various causes of moisture.

21 thoughts on “Turkey wants Santa’s bones

  1. Turkey has lots of touristic-historic attractions, I don’t think they really need one more. Otherwise, the idea is interesting, it’s not baseless…

    1. Demre doesn’t have lots of tourist attractions; it has this one. What’s the basis, in your opinion, for repatriating bones stolen a thousand years ago that have no religious significance to the Turkish population?

      1. For example Egypt wants the statue of Nofertiti. What do you mean it? The modern Egypt haven’t got any relation to the antique Egyptian culture, religion, etc. They simple want it, because they think this one is a part of their history, much more, than the history or culture of Germany… :hattip:

        1. Modern Egyptians have a profound connection to their Pharaonic history, just like modern Italians do with ancient Romans.

          Turks have no similar affiliation for the relics of an early Christian saint. The best argument that I can see is simply that the saint wanted to be buried in his hometown and people who venerate him should want to see his wishes fulfilled. I haven’t seen the evidence that St. Nicholas expressed that wish, though.

        2. Well, I understand you. Let’s talk about another situation. What can we do when something – what is very important for a country (for a religion or culture) – is situated in an other country. Must they moving this thing?

          A local example: What means the sword of Saint Stephen for the Czechs (Bohemians)?

        3. I followed Museum Management a few years ago, unfortunately I do not have the book nearby to look things up thoroughly but Turkey, just like Egypt (or Greece with their Kariatides) can’t do anything about repatriating their artifacts IF they were taken/stolen from before 1945 (I’m unsure about the year but it must be around that date).

          Since I’m from Belgium, I’ll give you a better example:
          We can not ask any works back which are considered to be Early Netherlandish paintings. Wikipedia has a list of those painters and you’ll see that a lot of them are not in Belgium anymore. Those paintings are considered to be part of the national legacy and culture nonetheless.

        4. Actually, we can list endless the “stolen” artifacts, cultural heritages (for instance the corvinas). :shifty:

        5. Indeed, but everything that happened before a certain year has been taken care of in various international laws.

  2. The article has been taken offline, it seems.

    In short, people in Belgium and The Netherlands don’t celebrate Christmas but Saint Nicholas (“Sinterklaas”) on 5 & 6 December. He happens to have a bunch of black persons (named Black Pete or “Zwarte Piet”) to help him with delivering presents.
    The article is a cultural imperialistic piece about how racist this celebration is.

    As “full blood” Belgian (meaning I believe I can critise this local feast much better than some American who has never left his state and thus only know his own local culture), the language and tone deeply upsetted me. The feast is not racist at all!
    I have never seen those Black Pete’s as slaves or as a lesser being. Heck, when I was a kid, they were the important ones as they brought the presents (albeit under the leadership of Saint Nicholas but I never gave that much thought). Furthermore, his helpers have always been black, but no one cares if they are black because they are of Moorish decent, are from “Black Africa” or got it from going down chimneys the entire time.

    I feel the cultural differences lie in the fact that eventough Belgium has a terrible past in colonialism and mistreating Black slaves (although a part of this happened when Congo was private property of our king, we should not deny our responsibility in this), our modern society really doesn’t care about color. Color only plays a part in Belgium if it has to do with criminal records (most right-winged thinkers feel that a lot of Maroccan or Turkish young people chose a criminal path), as opposed to the US where it is “chique” to be hyperpolitical.

    1. Racisme: Santa Claus and his slaves Black Peter or Piet.

      You know it’s rather sad how many people in the Netherlands (also Belgium) and even some part in the world who’s always looking for an excuse to justify their so call tradition of “Black Piet” or “Black Peter” whatever they call it. It’s about the slave of Santa Claus, but … matter of fact is their are in DENIAL or just IGNORANCE . I think this is a bit of DOGMATISM

      (Explain Dogmatism: Dogmatism is the more general interpretation of a belief or attitude that someone is unable to revise his opinions based on new information. The term “dogmatism” implies that someone in his beliefs and an unthinking conformist way without the foundations of uses in question to ask. Dogmatism is seen as incompatible with a scientific and / or rational mindset in which self-correction is an intrinsic part of it.

      Example: There was a boy that deeply convinced for for many
      years that he was a corpse, he could not let go of that
      idea. So he goes to the doctor and explains his
      problem. The doctor asked the boy whether a corpses
      can bleed. “No,” said the boy, so the doctor makes a
      little cut in his finger and it began to bleed.
      The boy said, “You see, corpse do bleed)

      what i mean is if you try to explain it that it is racism, its like talking to a brick wall. Show them pictures and they change their view in something positive like example: “that’s because they must go through a chimney? unless the chimney is a shapeshifter machine they are a spitting image of a picture of how black people looks like during the slavery “dark black and thick big red lips”. Thats why i use this example of Dogmatism.

      If officials didn’t denied people to learn about slavery in high school many people wouldn’t be ignorance. (though maybe a small group of people will) I think they will learn from the past and their atitude, the way they think will all change big time. But maybe they are ashamed of their History because Black History is a big part of the Dutch history. That’s why they think it’s best to let people live their life’s in ignorance about their history and hope this part of history will vanished from peoples mind. But i believe every bad things that was done in the past and never was justify will return in the present in a different shape. Until we are aware of what happened: “The knowledge of knowing what happened in the past will only be repeated in the present or the future but in a different shape, but when you are aware of the knowledge of what happened in the past you will never do it again” not even in the present or in the future

      Racisme is still shown openly but in a different shape. Take for example: When you watch the TV like movies or commercial
      8 out of 10 Black people are characterize as someone who’s dum, aggressive, a drug addict, a criminal and even their image like the Dutch/Belgium slave Black (Peter)Piet of Santa Claus.

      It’s sad that we have so many example of history to learn from it but we ignore it. We had the history of slavery because their were black (a history that exist for 400 years and still exist in the present time, but occasionally shown on tv ) and than we got world war 2 because they were Jewish (still shown on tv’s many times) from 1945 till now….. so on…..so on…..so on.

      I wonder ….. did we really learn from our history or are we to proud to admit we didn’t. Do we stay ignorance or in denial or just play dom and do nothing……..while history repeat itself in a different shape.

  3. I’m not fully knowledgeable about the elves with Christmas, but I see quite some comparisons in it.
    Both make toys, both help out an elderly white guy (who has a beard to show for) in distributing the toys.

    I’m not sure how the backstory goes for the elves, but we have three backstories for Black Pete (the one about the chimney was an attempt at making it more political correct, but again: the kids don’t care about that). Over here Santa Claus seems to be able to “sell” himself to kids without the need for elves while Black Pete is equally important (not one without the other).

  4. As I understand it, Islam does recognise Christian saints as holy (as it recognises Jesus as a prophet, just not as the son of God).

    At least, I’ve been to churches in Turkey and Cyprus, where Muslims have prayed, lit candles, etc., and said that the buildings were “house(s) of God”.

    So, the remains might have some significance to the community in Demre/Turkey; but yeah, the potential for tourism will not have gone unnoticed.

  5. PLUS the american SANTA CLAUS, big fat red guy… is just a commercial copy of the European(turkis, whatever) Saint Nicolas… witch existed long before santa claus

  6. Isn’t it normal? Turks are Muslim but also they have one of the most secular country in the world, no danger for another religion. So Santa’s bone must return to his homeland!

  7. Please do reference the Armenian genocide. Ur ignorance isn’t bliss. The churches in Turkey have been converted into Mosques & the world is sick & tired of the death loving Muslims already.. get real.

    1. Turkey is a secular country with people of many religious beliefs, including Armenian Catholics, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical Christian and more. All these denominations have multiple churches which obviously have not been converted to mosques. Your concluding bigoted statement just underscores your own ignorance of the wide range of variety within a religion with 1.6 billion adherents worldwide.

      As for the Armenian genocide, I have mentioned it and will continue to mention it when it’s relevant to the story. It’s not here.

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