The town Myra is known to students of the New Testament as a place where Paul transferred ships while he was being taken to Rome for trial before Caesar (Acts 27:5).
In the centuries following, Myra became the home of a (Greek Orthodox) bishop known as Nicholas. Born in Patara, Nicholas died December 6, 343. Several legends arose around Nicholas who was noted for giving gifts to the poor and raising the dead.
Highly revered in Greece and Russia, St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, and scholars. From his life of piety, kindness, and generosity arose the legendary figure celebrated today as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. (Fant & Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, 256)
The ancient Myra is associated with the modern Turkish town Demre (or Kale). I thought you might enjoy seeing a few pictures related to Saint Nicholas. In the town square is a recent statue showing St. Nicholas with children. The statue was a gift of the Russian government in 2000. Many Russian tourists were visiting the day I was there.
A few decades ago I saw an older statue near the entrance to the church. It now has a fresh coat of black paint.
The Byzantine church dates to the 6th century A.D. Several writers point out that the sarcophagus of Nicholas was broken into by Italian merchants in 1087 A.D., and his bones were taken to Bari, Italy.
Wilson says the church is built like a basilica “in the shape of an orthodox cross” (Biblical Turkey 88).
On the left side of the apse there is a fresco of St. Nicholas. On a previous posting about Myra reader Al Sandalow sent me a few photos he made in the area including one of the fresco. I now have some photos, but I think Al’s is better and I post it here with thanks.
Tourism seems to be thriving at Myra even though the town is off the beaten track. Whether there are any Christians living in the town is doubtful.
For an earlier post about Myra and St. Nicholas, see here.
This is an edited re-post, with additional photos, from December 22, 2012