A Garner of Saints – Saint Nicholas of Bari

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Nicholas of Bari; by James Powell and Sons, 1904; chapel of Saint Nicholas, cathedral of Saint David, Wales; photographed on 21 July 2011 by Wolfgang Sauber; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Born at Patara, in Asia Minor, of rich and pious parents, to whom he was granted after they had been many years without children, his birth being announced by an angel. When laid in the basin to be washed, the new born rose to its feet, and folding its hands looked up to heaven. The Archbishop of Myra, his uncle, received a vision making known to him that the child was a sun which would illumine the whole earth. Nicholas was ordained priest at an early age, and displayed great activity in works of piety. Losing his parents while he was still quite young, he devoted the great riches which he inherited to relieving the necessities of the poor. One of his neighbours, a nobleman but very poor, felt himself unable to provide for his three daughters, and was actually deliberating whether he would not be obliged to devote them to a life of shame. When Nicholas heard of this he was filled with horror, and that night he threw into the window a purse filled with gold, which served as a dowry for the eldest of the girls. Sometime after he threw in a second purse, which helped to marry the second daughter. From this time the father kept a look out for his unknown benefactor. It was not long before Nicholas came with a third purse, and when it fell the father rose up, ran after him and caught him, and would have fallen at his feet, Nicholas however prevented this and forbad him to speak of the matter. The Archbishop of Myra, recognising his sanctity, gave Nicholas the charge of a monastery, and during his absence in the Holy Land, left Nicholas in charge of the bishopric. Not long after, Nicholas himself set out for the Holy Land. On the way he predicted a terrible storm which burst upon them in all its fury, but was calmed by his prayers. While on this voyage he raised to life a youth who had been killed by falling from the masts. At Alexandria he healed many sick, and went into the desert to see Saint Anthony. Warned by a vision of the Saviour he returned in haste from Palestine. The pilot intended to deceive him and take him to Alexandria, but a great storm arising, the man confessed his fault, and after Nicholas had appeased the tempest, they proceeded on their way. Arrived at his monastery, Nicholas was received with great joy, and while there he multiplied a morsel of bread so that it sufliced for all the workmen engaged in building a church there. After the death of the bishop of Myra, the people wished to appoint a fitting successor. While they were still uncertain as to who this should be, one of the principal men among them heard a voice in the night recommending him to be at the church door at the hour of matins and consecrate the first comer who bore the name of Nicholas. The next day Nicholas presented himself early at the church, and being escorted by the citizen, told him his name. Immediately, in spite of his protests, he was led inside the church and consecrated. After the ceremony a woman presented her child to him, who had fallen into the fire and been killed, whereupon Nicholas made the sign of the cross and raised the child to life. Not long after his appointment, the province suffered from a terrible famine. In the midst of it Nicholas learned that three ships, laden with wheat, had arrived at the port. Going down to the shore he asked the sailors to give something of their store to alleviate the general distress. The sailors replied that they could not venture to do so, as the wheat had been measured at Alexandria, and they were taking it to the emperor. However Nicholas persisted in his demands, assuring them that nothing should be lacking of their cargo when they came to discharge it; and it fell out as he had said. Nicholas thereafter distributed the wheat which he had received in this manner, and so miraculously that it lasted for two years. The Emperor Licinius renewing the persecutions of the Christians, Nicholas remained firm, and suffered first imprisonment and then banishment. Returning to his diocese he displayed great zeal in the destruction of idols. Among other things he felled a great oak sacred to Diana and held in great reverence. While the famine was still raging Nicholas happened to lodge in the house of a man who was a son of Satan. This man was in the habit of stealing and eating little children, and at this time he had so taken three boys, the sons of a poor widow, who were on their way to Athens. When their limbs were served up before the bishop, he perceived the fraud, and going to the hut where the remainder of the bodies was in pickle, he made the sign of the cross over them, and they rose up alive and well. Now it happened that a rebellion broke against the Emperor Constantine, who took severe measures to put it down. During the absence of Nicholas, the consul of the district ordered the decapitation of three innocent knights. Returning in haste Nicholas arrived on the scene with the three princes deputed by the emperor in the province, just as the men were kneeling to receive the blow. Throwing himself upon the executioner Nicholas deprived him of his sword, and after casting the weapon away, he unbound the men and took them with him before the consul, chiding the latter severely. After the man had given evidence of his repentance, the bishop gave him his blessing, while the three princes, having put down the rebellion without shedding blood, returned to the emperor who received them honourably. Not long afterwards they were thrown into prison on a charge of treason, brought by some malicious persons, the emperor giving instructions that they should be secretly put to death. Advised by one of their number, they prayed for help to Saint Nicholas. That night the holy man appeared in a dream to Constantine directing him to release the prisoners without delay, or else he would suffer defeat and death in a battle. The prefect who had brought the accusation received a similar vision. Both the emperor and the prefect arose and related their dreams to each other. Calling before him the three prisoners the emperor accused them of being sorcerers, asking if they knew a man named Nicholas. And they related the life and the miracles of St Nicholas and how they had prayed to him in the night. Then the emperor dismissed them, giving them presents to take to Nicholas and praying them to ask for his intercession for the emperor and his dominions. And when they presented themselves before the bishop and told him all he praised God and sent them home to their own country. It is said that Nicholas was present at the council of Nicaea, and being incensed by the discourse of an Arian bishop, he struck him. For this act of violence the council deprived him of his episcopal vestments, but an angel appeared bringing him the mitre and pallium, showing that God was not displeased by his zeal. The same legend relates that one day some mariners in great peril called upon Nicholas. Immediately he appeared to them helping them in the management of their oars and sails, and the tempest ceased. On reaching the shore the sailors visited his church, and those who had never seen him before recognised him as the one who had so appeared to them. And the Lord summoned Nicholas, who prayed that angels might be sent to him, and as he saw them coming, he expired in the year 342. When he was buried in a marble tomb, a fountain of oil sprang from his head and another stream flowed from his feet, possessing great virtue to heal diseases. Long afterwards the Turks destroyed the town of Myra, but forty-seven knights of Bari went thither, and being shown the tomb of Nicholas by four monks, they opened it and saw the remains floating in oil; and carrying them away they brought them to Bari, where they were buried in the year 1087.

A man who had borrowed money of a Jew took oath upon the body of Saint Nicholas to restore it as soon as possible. After he had kept it a long time the Jew demanded payment, but the man declared that it had already been made. Brought before the judges he swore that he had paid more than had been lent, handing to the Jew a hollow stick containing gold, to hold while he took the oath. Returning home he fell asleep in an open place, and was killed by a chariot which broke his stick and let out the gold. The Jew being urged by his friends to take the gold refused, unless the man should come to life again by the merits of Saint Nicholas. Immediately the man arose and the Jew was converted. A man of noble race who desired an heir prayed to Saint Nicholas promising him a golden cup, and that he would take the child to the saint’s church. His prayer was heard, and after the birth of his son the father had a cup made, but was so much struck by it that he kept it for himself and caused another like it to be prepared for the church. Going by sea to the church of Saint Nicholas, the father told his son to take some water in the first of the two cups, but as he was doing this the boy fell in and was drowned. The father in despair proceeded to the church and offered the cup at the altar, but it was thrown off every time that he put it there. All present were amazed, when suddenly the child appeared at the church door bringing the first cup, and related how Saint Nicholas liad preserved him from all harm when he fell into the sea. At this the father offered both cups at the altar and they were accepted. Another rich man had a son by the merits of Saint Nicholas whom he called Adeodatus, and he consecrated a chapel in his castle to the saint. Now it chanced that the son fell into the hands of the pagans and became the servant of their king. After the lapse of a year, the father was celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas in his castle, while the son held a precious cup before his king. And the youth sighed as he thought of his father and the feast day at his home. When the king learned the cause of his grief, he taunted him with the ineffectuality of Nicholas, when suddenly a great wind shook the house, and the child was caught up with the cup in his hand and set down before the door of the church where his parents were celebrating the feast of the saint. Patron saint of children, especially schoolboys, and of fishermen and seamen generally. 6th December.

Attributes

  • Three golden balls (rarely purses) carried on a book, on his hand or lying at his feet. Dressed as a bishop.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “Saint Nicholas of Bari”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 April 2017. Web. 25 June 2017. <>