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Sainted Nicholas of Myra – the Transfer of the Relics from Lycian Myra to Bari in Italy


Com­mem­o­rat­ed on May 9

      Saint­ed Nicholas the Won­der­work­er, Arch­bish­op of Myra in Lycia – the Trans­fer of the Relics from Lycian Myra to Bari in Italy: The Vita about his life is locat­ed under the 6 Decem­ber feast­day.
      In the XI Cen­tu­ry the Byzan­tine Greek empire was liv­ing through some ter­ri­ble times. The Turks put an end to its influ­ence in Asia Minor, they destroyed cities and vil­lages, the mur­dered the inhab­i­tants, and they accom­pa­nied their cru­el out­rage with the des­e­cra­tion of church­es, holy relics, icons and books. The Mus­sul­men attempt­ed also to destroy the relics of Saint Nicholas, deeply ven­er­at­ed by all the Chris­t­ian world.
      In the year 792 the caliph Aaron Al’-Rashid sent Khumeid at the head of a fleet to pil­lage the island of Rhodes. Hav­ing lain waste this island, Khumeid set off to Lycian Myra with the intent to rob from the tomb of Saint Nicholas. But instead of it he robbed anoth­er, stand­ing along­side the crypt of the saint. Just as they suc­ceed­ed in com­mit­ting this sac­ri­lege, a ter­ri­ble storm lift­ed upon the sea and almost all the ships were shat­tered into pieces.

The des­e­cra­tion of holy things shocked not only East­ern, but also West­ern Chris­tians. Chris­tians in Italy were par­tic­u­lar­ly appre­hen­sive for the relics of Saint Nicholas, and among them were many Greeks. The inhab­i­tants of the city of Bari, locat­ed on the shores of the Adri­at­ic Sea, decid­ed to save the relics of Saint Nicholas.
      In the year 1087 mer­chants from Bari and Venice set out to Anti­och for trade. Both these and oth­ers also had pro­posed on the return trip to take up the relics of Saint Nicholas and trans­port them to Italy. In this plan the men of Bari com­mis­sioned the Vene­tians to land them at Myra. At first two men were sent in, who in return­ing report­ed that in the city – all was qui­et, and in the church where rest­ed the glo­ri­fied relics, they encoun­tered only four monks. Imme­di­ate­ly 47 men, hav­ing armed them­selves, set out for the church of Saint Nicholas. The monk-guards, sus­pect­ing noth­ing, showed them the raised plat­form, beneathe which was con­cealed the tomb of the saint, where by cus­tom, they anoint­ed for­eign­ers with myrh from the relics of the saint. The monks told them dur­ing this about an appear­ance of Saint Nicholas that evening to a cer­tain elder. In this vision Saint Nicholas ordered the cau­tious pre­serv­ing of his relics. This account encour­aged the barons, – they saw an avow­al for them in this vision and as it were a decree from the saint. In order to facil­i­tate their activ­i­ty, they revealed their intent to the monks and offered them mon­ey – 300 gold coins. The monk-guards refused the mon­ey and want­ed to warn the inhab­i­tants about the mis­for­tune threat­en­ing them. But the new­com­ers bound them and put their own guards at the door­way. They took apart the church plat­form beneathe which stood the tomb with the relics. In this effort the youth Matthew was exces­sive in his espe­cial zeal, want­i­ng to as quick­ly as pos­si­ble to find the relics of Saint Nicholas. In his impa­tience he broke the cov­er and the barons saw, that the sar­coph­a­gus was filled with fra­grant holy myrh. The com­pa­tri­ots of the barons, the pres­byters Lup­pus and Dro­gus, made a litany, after which the break of Matthew began to flow with myrh from the over­flow­ing sar­coph­a­gus of the relics of the saint. This occurred on 20 April 1087.
      See­ing the absence of a con­tain­er chest, pres­byter Dro­gus wrapped the relics in the cov­er cloth, and in the com­pa­ny of the barons he car­ried them to the ship. The monks – hav­ing been set free, alert­ed the city with the sad news about the abduc­tion of the relics of the Won­der­work­er Nicholas by for­eign­ers. A crowd of peo­ple gath­ered at the shore, but it was too late…
      On 8 May the ships arrived in Bari, and soon the joy­ous news made the rounds of all the city. On the fol­low­ing day, 9 May 1087, they solemn­ly trans­port­ed the relics of Saint Nicholas into the church of Saint Stephen, sit­u­at­ed not far from the sea. The solemn bear­ing of the relics was accom­pa­nied by numer­ous heal­ings of the sick, which inspired still greater rev­er­ence for the Saint of God. A year after­wards a church was built in the name of Saint Nicholas and con­se­crat­ed by Pope Urban II.
      This event, con­nect­ed with the trans­fer of the relics of Saint Nicholas, evoked a par­tic­u­lar ven­er­a­tion for the Won­der­work­er Nicholas and was marked by the estab­lish­ing of a spe­cial feast­day on 9 May. At first the Feast­day of the Trans­fer of the Relics of Saint Nicholas was observed only by the peo­ple of the city of Bari. In the oth­er lands of the Chris­t­ian East and West it was not adopt­ed, despite the fact that the trans­fer of the relics was wide­ly known about. This cir­cum­stance is to be explained by the cus­tom in the Mid­dle Ages of ven­er­at­ing pri­mar­i­ly the relics of local saints. More­over, the Greek Church did not estab­lish the cel­e­bra­tion of this remem­brance, since for it the loss of the relics of Saint Nicholas was a sad event.
      The Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church cel­e­bra­tion of the mem­o­ry of the Trans­fer of the Relics of Saint Nicholas from Lycian Myra to Bari in Italy on 9 May was estab­lished soon after the year 1087, on the basis of an already estab­lished ven­er­a­tion by the Russ­ian peo­ple of the great Saint of God, brought over from Greece simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with the accep­tance of Chris­tian­i­ty. The glo­ri­ous accounts about the mir­a­cle-work­ings, done by the saint on both land and sea, were wide­ly known to the Russ­ian peo­ple. Their inex­haustible strength and abun­dance tes­ti­fy to the espe­cial­ly graced help of the great Saint of God for suf­fer­ing mankind. The image of Saint Nicholas, a mighty Won­der­work­er and Bene­fac­tor, became espe­cial­ly dear to the heart of the Russ­ian peo­ple, since it inspired deep faith and hope for his inter­ces­sion. The faith of the Russ­ian peo­ple in the abun­dant aid of the Saint of God was marked by numer­ous mir­a­cles.
      A sig­nif­i­cant body of lit­er­a­ture was com­piled about him very ear­ly in Russ­ian writ­ings. Accounts about the mir­a­cles of Saint Nicholas done in the Russ­ian land were record­ed ear­ly on in deep antiq­ui­ty. Soon after the Trans­fer of the Relics of Saint Nicholas from Lycian Myra to Bari, there appeared a Russ­ian redac­tion of his Vita and an account about the Trans­fer of his holy relics, writ­ten by one con­tem­po­rary to this event. Ear­li­er still was writ­ten a lau­da­tion to the Won­der­work­er. And each week on Thurs­day, the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church hon­ours his mem­o­ry in par­tic­u­lar.
      In hon­our of Saint­ed Nicholas were erect­ed numer­ous church­es and monas­ter­ies, and with his name Russ­ian peo­ple are wont to name their chil­dren at Bap­tism. In Rus­sia are pre­served numer­ous won­der­work­ing icons of the saint. Most reknown among them are the images of Mozhaisk, Zaraisk, Voloko­lam­sk, Ugresh­sk and Rat­ny. There was nei­ther house nor tem­ple in the Russ­ian land, in which there was not an image of Saint Nicholas the Won­der­work­er. The sig­nif­i­cance of the graced inter­ces­sion of the great Saint of God is expressed by the ancient com­pil­er of the Life-Vita, in the words of whom Saint­ed Nicholas “did work many glo­ri­ous mir­a­cles both on land and on sea, aid­ing those down­trod­den in mis­for­tune and res­cu­ing the drown­ing, car­ried to dry land from the depths of the sea, rais­ing up oth­ers from cor­rup­tion and bring­ing them home, lib­er­at­ing from chains and impris­on­ment, avert­ing felling by the sword and free­ing from death, and grant­i­ng much heal­ing to many: sight to the blind, walk­ing to the lame, hear­ing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. He brought rich­es to many suf­fer­ing in abject pover­ty and want, he pro­vid­ed the hun­gry food and for each in their need he appeared a ready helper, an avid defend­er and speedy inter­ces­sor and pro­tec­tor, and such as appeal to him he doth help and deliv­er from adver­si­ty. Both the East and the West know of this great Won­der­work­er, and all the ends of the earth know his mir­a­cle-work­ing”.

© 1996–2001 by trans­la­tor Fr. S. Janos.