St. Nicholas, called “of Bari”, Bishop of Myra (Fourth Century) 6 Dec. Feast day.
The great veneration with which this saint has been honored for many ages and the number of altars and churches which have been everywhere dedicated in his memory are testimonials to his holiness and of the glory which he enjoys with God. He is said to have been born at Patara in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor. Myra, the capital, not far from the sea, was an episcopal see, and this church falling vacant, the holy Nicholas was chosen bishop, and in that station became famous by his extraordinary piety and zeal and many astonishing miracles. The Greek histories of his life
agree that he suffered imprisonment of the faith and made a glorious confession in the latter part of the persecution raised by Dioletian, and that he was present at the Council of Nicaea and there
condemned Arianism. The silence of other authors makes many justly suspect these
circumstances. He died at Myra, and was buried in his cathedral.
This summary account by Alban Butler tells us all that is known about the life of the famous St.
Nicholas, and even a little more; for his episcopate at Myra during the fourth century is really all that seems indubitable authentic. This is not for lack of material, beginning with the life attributed to the monk who died in 847 as St. Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople. But he warns us that “Up to the present the life of this distinguished Shepard has been unknown to the majority of the faithful”, and sets about enlightening their ignorance nearly five hundred years after the saint’s death. This is the least unreliable of the “biographical” sources available, and a vast amount of literature, critical and expository, have grown up around them. Nevertheless, the universal popularity of the saint for so many centuries requires that some account of these legends should be given here.
We are assured that from his earliest days Nicholas would take nourishment only once on
Wednesdays and Fridays, and that in the evening according to the canons. “He was exceedingly
well brought up by his parents and trod piously in their footsteps. The child, watched over by the
church enlightened his mind and encouraged his thirst for sincere and true religion”. His parents
died when he was a young man, leaving him well off and he determined to devote his inheritance to works of charity. An opportunity soon arose. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and had moreover to support three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. This came to the ears of Nicholas, who thereupon took a bag of gold and, under cover of darkness threw it in at the open window of the man’s house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed him with his gratitude. It would appear that the three purses represented in pictures, came to be mistaken for the heads of three children and so they gave rise to the absurdstory of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.
Coming to the city of Myra when the clergy and people of the province were in session to elect a
new bishop, St. Nicholas was indicated by God as the man they should choose. This was at the
time of the persecutions at the beginning of the fourth century and “As he was the chief priest of the Christians of this town and preached the truths of faith with a holy liberty, the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with many other