Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stealing St. Nicholas' Relics

The crypt of St. Nicholas in Bari
The city of Bari is located in southern Italy, right at the "Achilles Heel" so to speak. This blog has mentioned it as the final resting place in 1087 of most of the bones of St. Nicholas, but we haven't talked about the details of how they got there.

The relics were originally held in the city of Myra in Lycia (Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra; Myra was in what is now Turkey), but their existence was threatened by the expansion westward by the Turks. Merchants from Bari decided the relics weren't safe, so they sailed to Myra to take matters (and the relics) into their own hands. The Bari merchants hired Venetians to take them to Myra.

Two men left the ship to visit the Church of St. Nicholas to see how well the relics were guarded. They found only four monks tending the relics, so they returned to the ship and brought over 40 armed men to the Church. Suspecting nothing amiss, the monks and guards showed the merchants and their men the platform under which the relics rested, and where pilgrims were anointed with the "Oil of Saints" from the relics.

The Barians offered 300 gold coins in exchange for the relics, but were refused. They bound the monks and guards, and proceeded to take apart the platform to get at the relics. The relics were wrapped in cloth and carried to the ship. The monks, however, having been set free when the deed was done, alerted the town; the townspeople flocked to the shore, but the ship was already sailing. This was on 20 April. The ship arrived in Bari on 8 May 1087.

Carrying the relics to the church of St. Stephen the next day* caused many miraculous healings along the way. The following year, Bari built a church dedicated to St. Nicholas, where the relics have remained ever since.

*9 May became a special feast day for St. Nicholas in the Russian Orthodox Church.

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