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Who was Saint Nicholas?

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Pfarrkirche_Liesing_(Lesachtal)_-_Nikolauslegende

Nicolas of Myra, or Nicolas de Bari, commonly known as the “Saint Nicolas”, was born in Patara, in Lycia, around the year 260, and died in Myra in 345. It was an Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, Anatolia, East of the Roman Empire. It was renowned for his charity and militant in faith. Tradition says he participated in the First Council of Nicaea.

Canonized, he was proclaimed protector of many nations and many trades. He is a popular character of Christian hagiography.

Historical character

Childhood

Nicolas was born in Patara, in Lycia, around the year 260 in a Christian rich family. His parents, Epiphanius (Ἐπιφάνιος) (original Greek) and Johanna (Ἰωάννα) according to some accounts, Theophanes (Θεοφάνης) and Nonna (Νόννα) according to others, according to some versions die during a plague epidemic when he was eight years old or, according to Claude Kevers-Pascalis, when he was twenty years old. Nicolas would have been at the orphanage or raised by his uncle Nicolas, Bishop of Myra, Lycia still located in southwestern Anatolia. He gives generously to defend justice and disadvantaged people; he throws through the window of the house of his ruined neighbor three bags of gold to enable him to provide his daughters and avoid that they have resorted to prostitution.

Archbishop of Myra

Because the successor of St. Nicolas uncle was dying, he was appointed bishop of Myra around the year 300. According to some versions, his uncle ordered liturgical reader and priest when nineteen old before naming him in top of his monastery called the Holy Sion. According to Kévers-Pascalis, he eas not a priest when he was appointed bishop.

In 311, he convinced a commander of vessels transporting grain of the Roman Empire to illegally transfer to the inhabitants of Myra part of its load to protect the population from starvation.

He is imprisoned with the rest of the Christian population by Maximin Daia, Egypt Governor, during the campaign against Licinius, governor of Lycia.

He is present in the first Council of Nicaea in 325. The bishop Nicolas particular struggle against Arianism.

Three major events are still to note: it saves three young men accused by a corrupt judge for having organized a riot in Andriake; he tears the executioner’s sword and requires reversal of the trial, where he was pleading the innocent; he gets a tax cut of Myra after an audience with the Emperor Constantine in Constantinople; Finally, during the same visit to Constantine, he advocated succesfully for the officers Nepotian Erpilion and Ursus, wrongly accused of conspiracy against Constantine.

A year before his death, he did destroy the temple of Artemis of Myra.

Relics

His bones are preserved in a church in Myra in Lycia until the eleventh century. According to legend, they have the particularity to ooze perfumed oil. This balm is known in Europe in the Middle Ages. This attracts celebrity and sixty-two sailors from Bari steal and bring his relics (some authors claim that they were wrong relics) in May 9, 1087 in Christian lands in Bari. A basilica is specially built for him between 1089 and 1197. An important relic arrives in Lorraine, from 1090, and then became a major object of pilgrimage with the traditional procession in the Basilica of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port.

Some fragments of the relic were also transferred to the St. Nicolas Cathedral Fribourg during the Renaissance. In fact, around 1420, Father Pierre Affry obtained permission to take a few fragments of the saint at the Cistercian abbey of Hauterive. The church in Freiburg, for the transfer of these precious relics, had to ask the help of the swage and of the Council of the city. “They had recourse to the authority of Pope Julius II. A papal bull of 2 July 1505 gave these relics in Freiburg. The transfer was made on May 9, 1506.”

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