Burial Spot of St. Nicholas: Inspiration for Santa Claus Uncovered

Archaeologists in Turkey Uncovered the St. Nicholas Burial Spot, the saint behind Santa Claus, buried in a fourth century church.

Oct 22, 2022By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Burial spot St. Nicholas
The sarcophagus of Saint Nicholas is located in a church named after the saint in the down of Demre, Turkey. (Image credit: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


A group of ecstatic archaeologists uncovered the burial spot of St. Nicholas, inspiration for Santa Claus. Archaeologists uncovered the Christian bishop’s tomb amongst the ruins of a prehistoric Christian Orthodox Church in Myra, Turkey. Mediterranean sea levels destroyed the church in the Middle Ages.


Burial Spot of St. Nicholas – Extremely Important Discovery

Burial spot St. Nicholas
A fresco of Jesus in a church in Turkey’s Antalya region hinted at the exact location of Saint Nicholas’ burial. (Image credit: Izzet Keribar/Getty Images)


Archaeologists uncovered ancient stone mosaic floors while excavating the Church of St. Nicholas in Demre. General belief is that the church represents a place where the bishop stood during the service. Also, wherein is the first place of his tomb in the temple.


“We are talking about the floor on which St. Nicholas’s feet stepped. This is an extremely important discovery, the first find from that period,” Osman Eravşar, the head of the provincial cultural heritage preservation board in Antalya says.


Their extraordinary discovery confirms legends that the holy figure lived and died in the Roman Empire in modern day Turkey. Although researchers know the church contains the saint’s body, his remains were stolen around 700 years after he died, so the specific spot of his remains was a mistery.


Saint Nicholas burial spot
Image: Antalya DHA/Daily Star

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In order to uncover the burial spot of St. Nicholas, they had to put in a lot of work. Everything started in 2017 when electronic surveys revealed empty spaces between the floor and the foundations. They had to remove the top layer of the Byzantine-era mosaic tiles. Specifically, to reveal the ruins of the ancient basilica from the third century.


Clues archaeologists have, helped them find a burial spot of St. Nicholas. This includes the ecclesiastical building’s similarity to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and the placement of a fresco depicting Jesus.


Italian men stole the St. Nicholas’s remains

St Nicholas church
St Nicholas’ church in Myra. Picture: Getty


The modern town of Demre boasts the Church of St. Nicholas, built in A.D. 520. This church was on top of an older church where the Christian saint served as bishop. Then known as Myra, the small town was a popular Christian pilgrimage spot following St. Nicholas’ death in A.D. 343.


In A.D. 1087, “Illustrious men of Bari [Italy]… discussed together, how they might take away from the city of Myra… the body of St. Nicholas”. This is according to a contemporaneous manuscript translated from Latin by late medievalist Charles W. Jones.


Now, there is also information about the original burial place of St. Nicholas, according to Eravşar. When the Bari contingent removed the saint’s bones in the 11th century, they also shoved some sarcophagi aside, obscuring their original location.


“His sarcophagus must have been placed in a special place, and that is the part with three apses covered with a dome. There we have discovered the fresco depicting the scene where Jesus is holding a Bible in his left hand and making the sign of blessing with his right hand”, says Osman Eravşar, chairman of the Antalya Cultural Heritage Preservation Regional Board.


Saint Nicholas tomb
Another church, built on top of St Nicholas’ tomb. (Image: ullstein bild via Getty Images)


About the church being built on top of the other church, archaeologist William Caraher says the situation is not unusual. “In fact, the presence of an earlier church on a site has been a reason to build a church since Early Christian and Byzantine times”, he adds.


Caraher noted that St. Nicholas is significant in Orthodox and Catholic traditions. “I think many people at some point in their lives, hoped to get a little glimpse of the real St. Nick,” Caraher says.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.