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Tuesday, January 14, 2014



Several Museum supporters have asked that I put my holiday icon's image and story on the blog. Make sure you read the final paragraph.

Saint Nicholas

Much of the story of Nicholas of Myra is lost in clouded mists of legend, but there are parts of his tradition that transcend mythology and modern commercial distortions. 

Nicholas was born around the year 270 AD in the village of Myra, now the small town of Kale in modern Turkey. He lived over 70 years. We picture him today as a gentle old man. Most Christians honor him as the patron saint of children, students, and those who make their living on the sea.

For those interested in miracles, Nicholas is called the “Wonder-Worker,” (in Greek Νικόλαος ὁ Θαυματουργός). It is not however for the performance of miracles that Saint Nikolaos is remembered in this holiday note, but for his simple but profound deeds. Nicholas believed that small, persistent actions could change the world.

In the 4th century, and unfortunately in much of the world today, girls were treated as social inferiors and not allowed the privedges of males. For example, without a dowry, women were not eligible for marriage. In most lands females were forbidden to own land, and a dowry was a partial insurance that a woman would not be a burden to her deceased husband’s family. Even religous convents would not accept new members without a dowry.

Without family support, an ella (Latin meaning girl) was simply a throw away human being. With no dowry, a girl was doomed to a brutal life of drudgery and endless exploitation. Cleaning household firepits, she could only have the unreachable fantasies of a cinder ella.  

In secrecy, Nicholas used his church’s funds to change lives. The priest dropped dowry coins through rooftop smoke holes (chimneys would arrive later) to be found in the ashes of cooking fires. Into the shoes of poor children he placed money and food. He was known to sell church treasures to care for the needy. Quite naturally, he became the patron saint of pawnbrokers.

After his lifetime, ordinary people proclaimed Nicholas a saint. His relics were enshrined by Orthodox Greeks in Byzantium, and later moved to Bari, Italy after the conquest of the Turks. Roman Catholics called him Sanctus Nicholaus. Spanish sailors carried the love of their San Nicolas north to the Netherlands where Dutch children still put out their shoes for a December visit of Sinterklass. 

After the great earthquake of 1994, relics of Saint Nicholas of Myra were brought from Bari, Italy to a devastated San Fernando Valley, where they are to this day enshrined in the Greek Orthodox Church that bears his name in Northridge.

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