St. Nicholas of Bari
Bishop Confessor (-350)
Doubtless on the most loved Saints, hardly anything is historically known about the life and death of Nicholas of Bari (Italy), except that he was Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, for some time during the first half of the 4th century.
His legend recounts how, on returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he came to Myra, and early the next morning went to church. The local Bishop having just recently died, the clergy had secretly agreed that the first recently died, the clergy had secretly agreed that the first person to enter the church that morning would become the new Bishop; and so Nicholas was consecrated. He suffered imprisonment during the Diocletian persecution, but was freed by the great Niocaean Council I (c. 325) which condemned the Arian heresy.
The principal miracle - legends that highlight Nicholas' reputation for generosity and kindness speak of his liberation of 3 unjustly condemned officers; his secret provision of dowries for three daughters of an impoverished nobleman _ he threw gold filled purses in through the window during the night, thus making him the "bringer", and his deliverance of three innocent youths condemned to death.
After his death, the Myra Christians honoured his memory by leaving surprise gifts for their children by their bedside during the night before his anniversary. This tradition gradually got transferred to our Christmas, and "Saint Nicholas" has in popular parlance become corrupted to "Santa Claus"! But in certain parts of Europe, as in Catholic Austria for instance, the practice of giving to well-behaved children a small present and to naughty ones a piece of black coal and a switch on 6 December still prevails.
The relics of St. Nicholas were allegedly stolen from his Church in Myra in 1087 and brought to Bari in southern Italy by some Italian sailors or merchants. Now enshrined in the church of St. Nicola, Bari, they are venerated to this day for their power of healing. On his feast day, his image is taken out to sea in a boat and returned in the evening with a torchlight procession. Regarded as the Patron of mariners and travelers, he is honoured especially in seaport towns. He is also the Protector of the innocent and the wronged in particular and of all children in general. Finally, he is also the Patron of Russia, Greece, Sicily, Lorraine, Limerick and Napels.
Reflection :"Whoever welcomes this child in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, also welcomes the one who sent me" (Luke 9:48).