Turkey wants the bones of St. Nicholas

From Rorate with a biretta tip

Another barefaced insult from the Turks

AFP – Turkey will ask for the return of the bones of Saint Nicholas, who Father Christmas is modelled on, from their display in Italy, local media reported on Friday. (Of course, the bones of St. Nicholas are not "on display" in Bari; these were taken to Bari in order to be saved from desecration! CAP)

Saint Nicholas, from the modern-day town of Demre on southern Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is, according to tradition, the ancestor of Father Christmas, but his remains were stolen by Italian pirates in the 11th century.

"These bones should be exposed here and not in a town of pirates" in Bari, said Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay, quoted in the newspaper Milliyet.

"If we build a museum in this town (Demre), naturally the first thing we will ask for are the remains of Father Christmas".

The minister gave no schedule for the museum construction, which would exhibit relics of ancient civilisations, but said that after a study by experts, Turkey would request that Italy return the remains of Saint Nicholas.  [Riiiight….   THAT’s gonna happen!]

Many tourists, especially from Russia, visit the Saint Nicholas church in today’s Demre, a fifth-century Byzantine basilica rebuilt in the 11th century.

Nicholas was a bishop in ancient Myra (Demre) in the fourth century, during the Byzantine period.

He was buried in Myra, but pirates stole his remains in the 11th century and brought them to Bari in southern Italy, placing them in its own Saint Nicholas basilica.

Saint Nicholas is celebrated for his charity, and his generosity towards others is at the origin of the character of Father Christmas, who took Nicholas’s place in Christianity as the giver of presents to children.

From France 24.

BBC helpfully adds that:

Even without the bones, the town of Demre has not been shy about cashing in on its most famous native son – today visitors to the Byzantine church there are greeted by a large, plastic Santa statue, complete with beard and red snow-suit.

(The Byzantine church is currently in ruins, a casualty of Turkey’s long-running campaign against Christianity.)

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  1. Dennis Martin says:

    How about a trade: Bari gives the relics back to Demre, the Seljuk Turk pirates give Asia Minor, including Demre, back to the Greeks from whom they stole it, and all ethnic Turks return to whichever of the “-stans” north of the Caspian Sea from which they emerged a millennium ago?

    Sounds about fair.

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    As I Said on Rorate, the turks can have the bones of St Nicholas back when they all convert and submit to the roman pontiff

  3. And give back the Hagia Sophia as well!

  4. Kimberly says:

    “These bones should be exposed here and not in a town of pirates”

    Why are pirates getting such a bad rap here and why does a town filled with turks make it a better place? Remember what happened to the bones of Thomas a Becket.

  5. Jack Hughes says:


    I think the Church of Holy Wisdom pretty much comes with the deal I made, although we could also charge the turkish government for the redecoration that will need to be done in order to restore those wonderful mosaics and knock down the minirets

  6. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    Well, to be fair:

    1) They’re using the same argument that the Greeks used about the Elgin Marbles.
    2) As for any “campaign against Christianity,” Turkey is a state which has an official policy of Laicite like France, which means the Muslims are also being “campaigned” against – as is religion in general, in fact. To equate the actions of the Ottoman Turks with that of the Turkish Republic is like conflating the policies of Ancien Regime France to the Fifth Republic.
    3) The church is currently under reconstruction, but the Divine Liturgy is celebrated.

  7. Thomas S says:

    How about we place St. Nicholas’ relics on the tomb of Blessed Urban II and tell the Turks to come get them?

  8. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    Probably not going to work, since odds are the Turks that do go for them will be only nominally Muslim at best, and agnostic at worst ;)

  9. Mariana says:

    Calling Bari a town of pirates is so diplomatic, too!

  10. catholicmidwest says:

    Like the Turks have never been pirates. It’s been a regional specialty in the Middle East for more than a thousand years to rob and murder anyone passing through. Remember the spice caravans to India that were always trying to fend off pirates????

    This is just one more act of piracy–an attempt to obtain something they think has monetary value (this time, tourism).

    Of course, anything they obtain, as always, is destroyed. They warehouse it because they have no depth of understanding and don’t know what to do with it (a regional specialty), and then it disappears or is squandered.

    So, of course not. Let them convert and come to Italy and get in line like everyone else if they want to see the remains of St. Nicholas. He was a Catholic bishop and he belongs in Italy.

  11. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    catholicmidwest: Conversion would be good, too, seeing as most have already pretty much abandoned their old religion for a crass secularism a la France.

  12. Leonius says:

    The real bones of St. Nicholas are buried in Ireland anyway ;)

  13. PatrickV says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy Saint Basil’s Day to all, and a Glorious Epiphany to follow.

    One country’s pirates might be another’s merchant navy. I would have to look it up, but the “pirates” tag might be a bit harsh. Since the Turks were about to seize the city, perhaps the Barese sailors thought more of preserving the Saint’s relics than leaving them to the Moslem’s tender care. It was not long before (8th century) that Moslem forces attacked Rome, and the situation for Christians in the Holy Land was deteriorating. The Byzantines were in trouble and things looked dark. Piracy, no. Preservation of the patrimony of the Church, yes.

    As to handing over the relics, I tend to think that Bari would explode with opposition. Not only is there the Latin Rite present, but Bari is the home to the greatest number of Italo-Albanian Greek Catholics in the world. All their ancestors fled the Balkans and went to Bari. How do you think they would feel?

    The Turks will not give proper honor and deference to the Ecumenical Patriarch or the Orthodox laity or clergy, why should we think that they would do proper reverence to Saint Nicholas?

  14. catholicmidwest says:

    No, they haven’t, Francisco. I don’t know where you are, but radical Islam is alive and well in Amsterdam, Paris, Oslo, Hamburg, etc etc.

    The largest mosque in Europe sits only a mile or so from the Vatican, and it’s very well attended. They know who they are after.

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, look up the birth rates of muslims in France, Sweden, Holland, etc.

  16. EchoRomeo says:

    Ceterum censeo: There is no way for Turkey to become part of the European Union.

  17. irishgirl says:

    As someone else has said-if the Turks want St. Nicholas’ relics, then we should ask for the Christian sites back-Hagia Sophia comes to mind.

    But I don’t think the ‘Barese’ will allow ‘their San Niccolo’ to go back to Turkey! They’ll be up in arms!

  18. cwillia1 says:

    Turkey should funnel its request through the Ecumenical Patriarch.

  19. An American Mother says:

    Speaking of the Elgin Marbles, the Turks took SUCH good care of them when they had them . . . storing ammo in the Parthenon (and getting it blown up), quarrying marble there ditto, not to mention granting Lord Elgin permission to take them out of the country. . . .

    It will be below zero in perdition the day they get St. Nicholas back from Bari!

  20. Supertradmom says:

    I am on the side of the pirates.

  21. Jane says:

    Turkey has a snow flake’s chance in hell of getting the relics of St Nicholas back from Italy. The Turks are an optimist bunch, reaching for the stars. One nice thing about saints is that you don’t need their relics in order to get their intercession, but it is nice if you do their relics.

  22. ssoldie says:

    No way. The relics are in a safe place in Italy. I am with you,Jack Hughes.

  23. Jordanes says:

    Let Turkey ask Italy to give them St. Nicholas’ relics if they like. Italy doesn’t own the relics: the Catholic Church does.

    Nor does Turkey have any right to the relics, even if you consider the relics to be mere antiquities. These relics were taken from Myra when Myra was in the Eastern Roman Empire. If the facts that the Turks stole Myra from the Christians long after the relics were translated to Bari and Ataturk created a secular state out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire gives Turkey a right to St. Nicholas’ relics, then by the same token the Turks should restore all the lands and property that their distant ancestors stole from the Christians of Asia Minor. When they have done that, then maybe we can think about giving them the relics of St. Nicholas.

  24. Francisco Cojuanco says:


    I’m talking about Turkey proper, not the Muslims of Western Europe. Turks of Turkey proper (I know a few personally, mostly students) tend to be very, very adamant by going the route of Jules Ferry – and going the extra mile. Seriously, wearing a hijab there is enough to cause stares, and a burka is outright illegal. Every time any politician calls to increase the role of Islam, the military launches a coup to stop it. These calls for the relics are probably more to do with nationalism (Turks in general are very nationalistic, and the intellectual elite particularly so) than religion.

    Though that itsn’t really relevant to the topic. Which is that the Italian government doesn’t own it. This isn’t the Elgins, which were owned by the British Government. It’s owned by the Catholic Church.

  25. Agnes says:

    Oh the nerve of these guys.

  26. Mariana says:

    “Ceterum censeo: There is no way for Turkey to become part of the European Union.”

    Indeed, a consumation devoutly NOT to be wished for!

  27. chonak says:

    The other day I saw a Russian icon from about 1650 depicting the translation of St. Nicholas’ relics to Bari.

    I figure, if the Russian Church was willing to celebrate the event with an icon, and put a nimbus on the bishop who supervised the transfer, they’re not going to side with the Turks in this matter.

  28. Sid says:

    Francisco Cojuanco is making sense at 2 January 2010 @ 12:22 pm. And, sorry, but some writebackers and some of the folks at Rorate are displaying gross ignorance about both modern Turkey and Islam.

    Those who now something about just how Islamic Turkey really is might answer these questions for us:

    1. Are alcoholic beverages sold in Turkey? How much per capita?
    2. Is pork sold in Turkey? How much per capita?
    3. May a man have 4 wives in Turkey? Or is this forbidden by the Turkish Civil Code? How many Turkish husbands have more than one wife per capita?
    4. What percentage of the population attends Friday services?
    5. What percentage of the population prays 5 times a day? In public? Are the calls to prayers from minarets done publicly? With amplification?
    6. Is Muslim law incorporated into the Turkish Civil Code?
    7. What percentage of the population has made the pilgrimage to Mecca?
    8. May money be loaned at interest in Turkey?
    9. Do women in Turkey wear veils in public? Are the allowed to do so?
    10 What has been Turkey’s foreign policy in the past 50 years toward Israel, the US, Nato?
    11. What has been Turkey’s policy toward Greece in the past 5 years?
    12. What percentage of the Turkish population are atheists? Agnostics?

    A little diplomatic language would behoove everyone. Turkey has enforced policy of secularism, of which the Turkish military considers itself its guardian. Vilify Turkey, force her into a corner, and she will take one of two roads: a military coup and a junta (its happened before), or a radical Islamic regime, a situation that would make the situation for the Patriarch even worse.

    For the record, let the saint’s bones stay in Bari. And let’s encourage Turkey when she encourages pilgrimage to sites in her land. And quietly, behind scenes, let’s encourage Turkey to improve the situation of the Patriarch, and encourage with an open hand, not a clenched fist — something which is otherwise called “caritas”.

  29. An American Mother says:

    Fair enough, Sid, but a few more questions:

    13. How many priests have been murdered by Muslims in Turkey?
    14. How many churches have been destroyed in Turkey?
    15. What is the Turkish government doing about it?

  30. Sid says:

    American Mother:

    Add to your questions “since 1923”. I suspect that the Turkey of 20.v. A.D. 1453 has as much to do with the Turkey of 03.i.2010 as the Salem Massachusetts of 29.ii.1692 has to do with the Salem Massachusetts of today. Just as much as the Church of the Waldensian massacres has to with the Church of today. And your #15 begs the question, on the level of “Have you stopped beating your wife?”.

  31. rinkevichjm says:

    Rename the Myra and rebuild the church and populate it with the faithful and we’ll think about when we might transfer the remains. Russia has a better chance of getting them for church than any place in Turkey at the moment.

  32. An American Mother says:

    I’m talking about NOW, Sid.


    And that’s from Der Spiegel, which is not exactly a friend to Catholics or even any Christians.

  33. Sid says:

    Let’s have facts and figures, American Mother, not anecdote, innuendo, and Lefty reports. How many priests since 1923? percentage of population? compared to other countries? Your article proves the death of one — hardly a trend. Granted there are violent Muslim sectarians. But it’s not a Turkish state policy. As I said in my first post, vilification of Turkey by American Mother and her think-alikes will likely make matters for Christians worse.

    And how about a scientific poll?: What percentage of Turks wish a Drogheda on Christians? Frankly, if Turks hate Christians as much a American Mother suggests, then wouldn’t they rather keep a saint’s bones at arm’s length?

    Der Spiegel, Lefty as it is, might dislike all religions, at leasat after Rudolf Augstein left. And because in northern Germany Christianity is small, marginal and irrelevant, I would think it would be insurgent Islam that the Lefties need to denigrate.

    And a dislike of all religions is also what the current Turkish state is about, as Francisco Cojuanco has said above. Reports of persecution of Moslims exist also – at least up until the election victory of the Justice and Development Party.

    For the sake of argument, let us suppose that Moslims were killing priests. Muslim mothers don’t kill their children. American mothers do, and in large numbers. What was that about the speck in another eye and the log in our own?

    Facts and figures, please. And verifiable ones.

  34. Nan says:

    Sid, do you remember the Armenian Genocide? It reduced the population of Christians in Turkey by great numbers, as did the enforced migration of Chrisians to Syria. While those actions took place a century ago, they have repercussions today as a) murdered families are less likely to have descendants and b) the descendants of those forced to relocate are less likely to live in the original country.

    And what about the facts that only Muslims may train clergy in Turkey and that, typical of Muslim countries, Sunni Muslims have the advantage in society.

    When less than 1% of the population belongs to a non-Muslim religion, the country historically has taken steps to diminish the number of non-Muslims, and is hostile to those of other religions, killing one priest is too many.

    Reports of persecutions of Muslims is known to occur against the minority Muslim sects; it’s actually comparable to persecution of Christians, Jews and other religious as majority Muslim sects tend to discredit the minority as not actually being Muslim, so that’s not a real argument.

    What about Muslim fathers? They can kill their children with no penalty in Muslim-dominant countries. And their mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, cousin or any other woman under their control.

    Proud to have sent the Turks back so fast they forgot their coffee.

  35. Supertradmom says:

    Just a note: there are still dull historians who deny the Armenian Genocide, which was one of the worst in history and probably may be called the first modern planned genocide in history. St. Nicholas can stay where he is-in heaven and in Bari.

  36. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I can think of a two-word Italian phrase for Bari’s response. The first is “Va” and the second starts with “c” and isn’t appropriate for this blog.

    It’s not quite as poetic as “Nuts!”, but you get the picture.

    ????? ???? (Molon Labe!) was good, too.

  37. An American Mother says:

    OK, Sid, I’ll go look for some facts and figures (even though Der Spiegel, as a ‘lefty’ outfit as you put it, generally spends its time coddling Muslims – so this article is even more revealing than it would be from a conservative organ).

    But meanwhile, why don’t you read the article more carefully? “Hardly a trend”? The state religious authority publishes a condemnation of Christians. A priest shot, a priest and a monk stabbed, another priest attacked by a gang of young men. Does it only count if the attackers manage to kill their targets? Also, the Patriarch of Constantinople is constantly harassed by the authorities, and never knows if he is going to be granted permission to re-enter the country.

    Even before I go looking for numbers (and I wonder how I’m going to find them, since the government doesn’t officially recognize the status of Catholics), this tells me that there is a significant problem with religious persecution in that country.

  38. Lynn Diane says:

    I read such hatred here. Comments like “Anything they (the Turks)obtain is destroyed. They always destroy things.” Is that why Hagia Sophia is still standing and still has its magnificent mosaics, as well as a number of other ancient churches? Is that why the Holy Land lived in peace for centuries under Ottoman rule until it came under British rule, at which point the situation rapidly deteriorated? Comments on the Parthenon don’t reflect the fact that it was the then-reigning sultan who cared little about the Parthenon. Why is this turned into a blanket condemnation of Turks? No one has ever claimed that the sultans appreciated archeology. They didn’t.

    Yes, huge numbers of Armenians were slaughtered during WWI on the Russian border as the Russians called upon them to rise up against the Ottomans. It was terrible but was not committed by the regular Ottoman army and was not a genocide since it was limited to Armenians living near the Russian border and did not include the Armenians living in the western areas of the Ottoman Empire. The irregular troops involved in the slaughter were not under the control of the Sublime Porte, and were mostly Kurds and other tribal groups. Bernard Lewis has very eruditely commented on this terrible episode of history.

    Turkey has been a good friend to the U.S. and is the sole democracy in the region aside from Israel. The Turks, as part of NATO, sent troops to fight the Chinese during the Korean War. The Turks gathered intelligence on the Russians/Soviets, passed it on to the West and played a prominent role during the “Cold War.” They collaborated with the U.S. in blocking Soviet expansion wherever they could. Some of this involved the destruction of churches since the Soviets laid claim to nearly any territory where a church was. The Turks hosted Benedict XVI, who won over the hearts of many Turks with his kindness and love. Many Turks see priests as the defenders of the family, a concept which is much more important to the Turks than to Americans.

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