Who Was St. Nicholas?

Saint Nicholas is best-known by his Dutch-American nickname, Santa Claus. The original St. Nicholas “the Wonderworker” was bishop of the seaside town of Myra in Anatolia (now eastern Turkey) in the fourth century CE. He gained great spiritual and moral authority through his sufferings during the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Diocletian. In the earliest story about Nicholas, he intervened to stop the execution of three sailors who were falsely accused by agents of the corrupt local governor. Because of Nicholas’ standing with the people, the governor freed the men. The other famous story is of Nicholas as gift-giver. While a wealthy young man, he secretly gave bags of gold to the poor father of three young daughters to buy them husbands, so that they would not be forced into lives of prostitution.

 

After his death Nicholas became extremely popular, and many legends became associated with his life. He became the patron saint of prisoners, children, young women, and sailors, among others, as well as patron saint of Greece and Russia. Because his feast day is December 6, shortly before Christmas, he became associated with holiday gift-giving. In his bishop’s robes, he visits St. James Episcopal Church every year on a Sunday close to his feast day. St. Nicholas Hall was named in his honor because he risked life and treasure to oppose injustice, official corruption, and the trafficking of girls.

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