Thursday, December 27, 2012
History: The Sailors' Saint
St. Nicholas, who was born at Lycia some time in the fourth century CE, is better known as "of Myra" in honor of the city over which he presided as a Catholic bishop. The saint is sometimes also know by the moniker "of Bari" although why I cannot determine. He is the patron saint of a vast and seemingly disjointed array of items and people. According to Butler's Lives of Patron Saints, the Bishop is responsible for children of both sexes, brides, unmarried women, pawnbrokers, perfumers and perfumiers, travelers, pilgrims, safe journeys, sailors and maritime pilots. He is also the protector of Russia and the cities of Amsterdam, New York, Baranquilla, Bari, Myra and Liverpool. His feast day is December 6th, coincidentally the day after Krampus, the celebration of St. Nicholas' unsavory helper who goes by the same name.
The most famous story of the saint - and the one that awarded him the red and white suit of Santa Claus - has to do with Bishop Nicholas rescuing the three Christian daughters of a poor pagan who, unable to provide them with the dowries required for proper marriages, was going to sell them to a brothel owner. The future saint, hearing of the girls' distress, managed to raise three bags of gold, one for each girl's dowry. As he amassed these small fortunes, St. Nicholas threw the individual bags into the poor man's cottage under cover of darkness. Thus the bishop remained anonymous and, through this generosity, became not only a patron of children and brides, but an overarching giver of gifts, particularly at Christmas.
The connection of the saint to sailors is probably just as much legend. St. Nicholas was said to have made pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Egypt, both of which would have required travel via ship. The most compelling story of the saint and sailors, however, has the Bishop appearing to a vessel about to be beaten open on the rocks off Lycia. Through his intervention, the ship was brought safely into the port. A shrine was built to the saint there and, from that time forward, sailors stopped in to prayed to St. Nicholas for safe passage. Those who survived rough seas were also known to bring a piece of canvas from their rescued ship to the shrine as an offering of thanks.
Finally, if you're interested in the subject, you can find a lengthy and fascinating discussion of St. Nicholas and his importance to sailors over at the always informative gCaptain.
Be sure to stop by again tomorrow when the lucky winner of Triple P's very first giveaway will be announced. Until then, I hope the Holidays continue happy for all!
Header: Saint Nicholas and the Sailors from the Tres Riches Heures of the Duc of Berry via Wikipedia