It is difficult to find the oldest traces of the cult of St. Nicholas because of the Quarrel of Images which wiped almost all pictorial representations of saints dating from before the eighth century. However, we know that the saint enjoys very early great popularity; this is particularly visible in the ninth century by its omnipresence in the iconography of the Eastern churches. It is particularly venerated at that time in Crete, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia and later in Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Serbia. His cult is also developing in Western Europe after the arrival of his relics in Bari in 1087.
Nicolas, according to legend, would have received the baptism very young and would have stood alone in reverence, straight on his legs, to be baptized: this was his first miracle. Then he starts to fast by refusing to suckle the days prescribed by the Church (Wednesday and Friday).
It is the bishop of Patara, Method, and his parents who care for his education.
On the death of his parents (death due to plague), he inherited their wealth.
Miracle of the three virgins
Nicolas neighbor a man who, ruined, could not marry his three daughters without dowry. The latter considered the prostitute to raise money for their subsistence. Nicolas decided in secret to give three full scholarships to the young women.
The Christian legend is reported in the book the Golden Legend of Jacques de Voragine in the following passage:
”And it was so that one, his neighbour, had then three daughters, virgins, and he was a nobleman: but for the poverty of them together, they were constrained, and in very purpose to abandon them to the sin of lechery, so that by the gain and winning of their infamy they might be sustained. And when the holy man Nicholas knew hereof he had great horror of this villainy, and threw by night secretly into the house of the man a mass of gold wrapped in a cloth. And when the man arose in the morning, he found this mass of gold, and rendered to God therefor great thankings, and therewith he married his oldest daughter. And a little while after this holy servant of God threw in another mass of gold, which the man found, and thanked God, and purposed to wake, for to know him that so had aided him in his poverty. And after a few days Nicholas doubled the mass of gold, and cast it into the house of this man. He awoke by the sound of the gold, and followed Nicholas, which fled from him, and he said to him: Sir, flee not away so but that I may see and know thee. Then he ran after him more hastily, and knew that it was Nicholas; and anon he kneeled down, and would have kissed his feet, but the holy man would not, but required him not to tell nor discover this thing as long as he lived.”
Nicholas was appointed Archbishop of Myra
The death of the Bishop of Myra pushes the bishop of the province to give him a successor. One night, while they were praying, the voice of God directs them to name Archbishop Nicholas. The next morning, the bishops Nicholas waited on the church threshold, called him by name and asked him, despite his reticence, the miter on his head.
Nicholas and persecution
After a long period of peace, persecution came befall Christians. The Roman emperors prohibit congregations, order the destruction of churches and holy books and condemned to exile, imprisonment or death, those who did not abjure their faith. The bishop of Patara, Method, is put to death and Niccolas knows the prison, torture and was only issued by the coming to power of Constantine.
Nicholas and the Council of Nicaea
A priest named Arius, sustained that Christ is not God as his Father. Nicolas, called to the Council of Nicaea, virulently defended the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It takes so much that he hits Arius. Outraged by this action, the Council Fathers stripped of his function and Nicholas is taken to prison. But Christ and the Virgin would have appeared to their servant, giving him the pallium, the book of the Gospels and opening the door of his prison.
To defend his faith, Nicolas also addresses the pagan gods. He manages to convince his faithful to attack the temple of Diana. He built churches and shrines to martyrs on the ruins of the ancient temples.
Miracle of wheat
To save the people of Myra from famine, Nicolas goes to a nearby port learning that boats stopped to escape a storm. He manages to convince the owners to unload some of their precious grain in exchange for the promise that each boat would arrive safely. Upon arrival of the boats in Constantinople were measured wheat and there were the same amount at the beginning. Amazed, the sailors told the prodigy.
Rescue of sailors
Sailors about to die in a storm on the coast of Lycia, appeal to Nicolas to come to their rescue. The bishop appears on the ship. He reassures them and urges them to courage. Himself helps to maneuver the sails and seizes the rudder. He thus leads to the port and disappears before their eyes. The sailors then rush to get to Myre, there recognize their savior among his clergy and fall to his knees.
Nicolas saves three officers
Three officers of Constantine I had to lead a mission in Phrygia. Upon their return to Constantinople, these officers, initially loaded with honors, are being accused of a plot against the life of the sovereign. They are imprisoned and sentenced to death. The prefect of the palace, bought by jealous colleagues, ensures that no one believes in their innocence. The thought of unfortunates turns to the Bishop of Myra. That night, the emperor and his prefect see in dreams St. Nicholas ordering them to release the slandered officers, otherwise terrible punishments await them. The innocence of the condemned convinced Constantine which, giving them their freedom, sends them to Myre with presents and a letter asking Nicholas for prayers and forgiveness.
According to Emile Male, the rescue of the three officers of Constantine I is misunderstood by Christians, particularly because of Byzantine iconography that represents the great saint disproportionately compared to other men; these are then taken for children. This gives rise to the legend of the resurrection by the saint of three children, previously killed and cut into pieces by a butcher, prison tower becoming a salting.
Death of Nicolas and the miracle of the prodigious oil
Having had the revelation of his coming death, Nicolas gave a final papal Mass, then retired to the monastery of the Holy Sion where he was made abbot. This was a small fever having seized, he was administering the sacraments and died 6 December 343. He was buried in a marble tomb. A new then spread among the faithful: from the body of the bishop a fragrant oil flows, preserving him from putrefaction. This oil, called manna, has a reputation for curing the ills.
Seven centuries later in 1087, Bari marines remove the relics of Saint Nicolas taking back in their city. Legend says that the manna continues to flow.