Church of St Nicholas closed on the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas
- 7 December, 2005
Church of St Nicholas open to local mufti, but closed for mass on the
Feast Day of Saint Nicholas
by Mavi Zambak
Although the church belongs to the Orthodox Patriarchate, the
authorities have turned it into a museum where the Eucharist cannot
be celebrated. The local mufti can however use it for his Santa Claus
Demre (AsiaNews) In a warm and fertile land where a turquoise sea
gently splashes against a beautiful shoreline rises a small Turkish
town, Demre, which would have been lost to history were it not for
the fact that it once was the Episcopal See of Saint Nicholas, the
same Saint Nicholas whose venerated mortal remains now lay in the
Cathedral of Bari (southern Italy), the same Saint Nicholas known to
the many as Saint Nick, Old Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris
Kringle, Santa Claus, Santy, or simply Santawhose home is usually
given as either the North Pole in the United States (Alaska),
northern Canada, Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland, Dalecarlia in
Sweden, or Greenland, depending on the tradition and country, the
same old, bearded man who on Christmas Night travels the world in his
red and white costume bringing gifts to children.
According to one tradition in fact, the practice of gift-giving comes
directly from Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, who put three bags of
gold in stockings left to dry belonging to three young women, who had
no dowry, so that their father may not sell them into prostitution.
A recently renovated church in Demre is dedicated to the same Saint
Nicholas, a church, according to tradition, that was built in the 4th
century, when the town was called Myra and Saint Nicholas was its
Despite complaints, the church has now become a museum open to the
local mufti and his Santa Claus Association but closed to the
Eucharist by a decision of the local authorities. Gone is also the
statue of the Saint.
The Saint, who was buried in the church until a group of merchants
from Bari spirited his remains away in 1087, had fame as a
thaumaturge, drawing pilgrims and believers from around the region.
According to ancient chronicles, pilgrims came to the shrine, poured
oil into the tomb and collected it after it was sanctified by contact
with the Saint's bones so that it could be used on the sick.
Today, although the building is the property of the Greek Orthodox
Church (but known to local Turks as the Santa Claus Church), it is
used as a museum. The Saint's sarcophagus may be empty but tourists
are charged a fee to visit the burial chapel
And it is this church, the church of the bishop of Myra, famous for
his generosity and piety that has become a bone of contention and a
source of conflict.
The statue of Saint Nicholas, a bag full of gifts over his shoulder,
surrounded by children, which was a gift of the Russian Orthodox
Church, no longer stands in the square in front of the building. It
has been replaced since last spring by order of the town's mayor,
Suleyman Topcu, with a modern and multicoloured painting of Santa
Furthermore, for the past two years, the Eucharistic celebration has
been banned on the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas.
Yesterday, the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, Orthodox Christians had
to meet in a private home for mass despite repeated formal requests
by Patriarch Bartholomew I they be allowed to use the church.
The church-turned-museum was instead made available to the city's
mufti who had organised a "prayer for peace" during which, and this
takes the cake, the local Turkish Santa Claus association handed out
its annual Santa Claus Peace Prize to Jeannine Gramick, an American
Catholic nun, who was being acknowledged for her ardent defence of
gay and lesbian rights, Turkish newspaper Radical reported.
In her acceptance speech, the 63-year-old nun asked for forgiveness
for the Pope and believers who do not respect homosexuals.
Local Christians were left dumbfounded and baffled over what the
Turkish state is trying to achieve with such impudent and