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Santa’s Bones Are Encrusted in Gold – And You Can Check Them Out Before the Holidays!

Photo Credit: Tom Kelley Archive/ Stringer/ Getty Images
Photo Credit: Tom Kelley Archive/ Stringer/ Getty Images

We’re not here to debate whether or not Santa Claus is real this holiday season. However, what is real is the man Santa Claus is based on. Santa is based on a Greek bishop born in the 4th century CE, who gave his own wealth to the poor. By the nineteenth century, the story of Saint Nicholas was repurposed to fit the story of Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas is celebrated in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian faith, and as such, people can visit his relics.

Here, we take a look at some of the places we can see Saint Nicholas’s bones during the holiday season.

The relics of Saint Nicholas

Procession of relics of Saint Nicholas
Painting depicting the procession of the relics of Saint Nicholas, circa late 15th century. (Photo Credit: Heritage Images/ Getty Images)

After his death, Saint Nicholas was worshipped throughout medieval Europe. He became the patron saint of Russia and Greece and of sailors and merchants and was embraced by the Italian naval empire. Saint Nicholas’s remains were originally placed in Myra, located in modern-day Turkey. However, when The Ottoman Empire conquered Myra in the 11th century, Italian soldiers took it upon themselves to move Saint Nicholas’s relics.

In Bari, Italy, a new basilica was built to house Saint Nicholas’s bones, called the Basilica di San Nichola. Today, most of Saint Nicholas’s bones remain at this basilica, where they have been kept in a gold tomb since 1087.

The strictly religious definition of a relic is the mortal remains of a saint. In medieval Europe, the relic industry was huge as having a Saint’s relic at your church would attract pilgrimages to your town. As a result, churches worldwide continue to claim that they have relic fragments from Saint Nicholas’s bones.

Basilica Di San Nicola in Bari, Italy

Pope Francis at the tomb of Saint Nicholas
Pope Francis at the tomb of Saint Nicholas in Bari, 2018. (Photo Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/ Getty Images)

As previously mentioned, the Basilica di San Nicolais is the most famous destination for pilgrims trying to pay homage to Saint Nicholas. Most of Saint Nicholas’s bones are housed at this Basilica, sealed in a gold tomb in the crypt. Supposedly, the remains at the Basilica Di San Nicola exude a sweet-smelling, myrrh-like substance. This substance has been extracted from Saint Nicholas’s remains each year, and it is believed to have healing powers.

Chiesa Parrocchiale di San Nicolò di Lido, in Venice, Italy

Church of San Nicolo al Lido
Church of San Nicolo al Lido, in Venice, Italy. (Photo Credit: Sergey Ashmarin/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain via CC BY-SA 3.0

After the Ottoman Empire conquered Myra in the 11th century, the town of Venice also sent a search party to collect Saint Nicholas’s bones. These Venice sailors took over 500 smaller bone fragments with them back to Venice, where they are now interned in Chiesa di San Nicolò. However, the relics located in Venice are little-known and not a place of pilgrimage in comparison to Bari.

Halberstadt Cathedral, Halberstadt, Germany

Finger of Saint Nicholas
A relic containing a mummified finger from St. Nicholas in an exhibition room in the Halberstadt Cathedral. (Photo Credit: picture alliance/ Getty Images)

The Halberstadt Cathedral in Halberstadt, Germany, contains the finger of Saint Nicholas. In the 13th century, the Halberstadt bishop Konrad von Krosigk brought the relic back with him from the Fourth Crusade. The mummified finger is visible behind rock crystal, while the design of the arm reliquary is a gold-plated metal sleeve in the shape of an open hand. Precious stones adorn the edge of the sleeve. The relic is currently on display at the Halberstadt Cathedral.

Worms Cathedral, in Worms, Germany

Interior of Cathedral of Worms
Interior of the Worms Cathedral in Worms Germany, circa 2018. (Photo Credit: picture alliance/ Getty Images)

In 1058, a small chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas was built onto the worms cathedral to hold a Saint Nicholas relic given to the Cathedral by Empress Theophanu from Byzantium around 980. The original relic stored at the Cathedral was lost during the Nine Years War. In 1986, the Bishop of Bari gave the Worms Cathedral a bottle of myrrh-like substance from the bones of Saint Nicholas, and four years later, in 1990, a new shrine was dedicated to Saint Nicholas at the Worms Cathedral.

The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Basilica of Saint Nicholas, Amsterdam
Basilica of Saint Nicholas, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo Credit: Laszlo Szirtesi/ Getty Images)

Recently, the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam has received its very own Saint Nicholas relic. On December 5, 2021, the Basilica received a relic that is supposedly a piece of rib from Saint Nicholas. The relic was presented to the Basilica by Egmond Abbey in North Holland, which was in possession of this relic for about a thousand years.

Shrine of All Saints at Saint Martha of Bethany Church, in Illinois, United States

Relic of Saint Nicholas on display in Moscow
Relic of Saint Nicholas on display in Moscow in 2017. This relic was lent to the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Moscow by the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari. (Photo Credit: Mikhail Japaridze/ Getty Images)

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The Shrine of All Saints located in Morton Grove, Illinois contains the relics of more than 2000 saints, making it the second-largest collection of relics in the United States. The shrine is said to contain a fragment of Saint Nicholas’s pelvic bone. In 2017, the bone fragment was analyzed and it was discovered that it does in fact date back to Saint Nicholas’s lifetime. This relic is believed to have come from Lyon in France. 

Madeline Hiltz

Maddy Hiltz is someone who loves all things history. She received her Bachelors of Arts in history and her Master’s of Arts degree in history both from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Her thesis examined menstrual education in Victorian England. She is passionate about Princess Diana, the Titanic, the Romanovs, and Egypt amongst other things.

In her spare time, Maddy loves playing volleyball, running, walking, and biking, although when she wants to be lazy she loves to read a good thriller. She loves spending quality time with her friends, family, and puppy Luna!