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St Nicholas Church Antalya

St Nicholas Church Antalya
This ruined Byzantine church is located in the Lycian ancient city of Myra which is today modern Kale or Demre , and it houses the tomb of St. Nicholas of Myra, better known as Santa Claus, along with excellent mosaics and murals.

St Nicholas 

There are very few historical proven facts about Nicholas; he was born in Patara in 300 AD, in his youth he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Egypt and Palestine after which he became bishop of Myra. He was tortured and imprisoned during the Diocletian persecutions and released after the accession of Constantine.  Several miracles have been attributed to him both before and after his death, around 352 AD, and his Greek Orthodox cult was particularly popular in Russia.  

The remains of his body were stolen in 1087 by Italian merchants and taken to Bari in Italy.  He is patron saint of mariners, merchants, bakers, travellers and of course children. His representations in art are as varied as his alleged miracles and his remains are preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari where still today an oily substance greatly valued for its medicinal powers and known as “Manna di S. Nicola” is said to flow from.

Most of his legends involve him helping the young and the poor; one story tells of a butcher luring 3 boys into his house during a time of great famine and murdered them while they slept. He cut them up and placed their parts in barrels of salt with the intention of selling them on as food.  An angel told Nicholas of this diabolical act and he quickly went to the house and brought the boys back to life. Another tale tells of a very poor man about to force his 3 daughters into a life of prostitution as they had no marriage dowries and the Saint saved them from this terrible future by leaving bags of gold in their garden (or dropped down the chimney) thus enabling them to be married.

St Nicholas Church

After his death a church is believed to have been constructed over his tomb which would have been damaged during an earthquake in 539 AD, was repaired and restored again in the late 6th century by Emperor Justinian.  It was again damaged in the Arab raids of the 7th century, and the structure that is seen today is what has survived since it was rebuilt again in the 8th century.  It was attacked by Arabs in 1034, restored again in 1043 by Emperor Constantine IX who added a walled monastery nearby.  In the mid 19th century the church was in very bad condition and it was Russians who went on to restore it twice, which was partially successful and added the bell tower and upper storey at that time.  Throughout the church are excellent marble mosaic pavements and faded wall paintings, it has three side aisles, two on the south have chapels at the east end and a room further on from the north aisle gives access to the upper storey.  There is a groined vault covering the nave that has stepped seats for the priests, there is a covered aisle in the apse, and the stone altar is surrounded by four broken pillars and it is in the south aisle where the empty tomb of the Saint sits.

Opening Hours of the Church

The church is only used for religious services for one day every year on the 6th December to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas. This begins with a Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy then a service in which Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant clergy can participate and the Cardinal Archbishop of Bari in Italy is also represented.  

There is another festival that takes place in Demre in early December every year and is the International St. Nicholas Symposium.

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