Dec 6, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

While the spirit of Santa may be alive and well in the hearts of children around the world, archeologists in southern Turkey have less than merry news for them: They think they have discovered the tomb of the original Santa Claus, AKA Saint Nicholas. Here’s a closer look at the story, as reported by The Telegraph.

From Saint to Santa

Born in Demre in Turkey’s Antalya province, the 4th-century bishop was celebrated in life for his kindness to kids. One of his trademarks? Placing coins in the shoes of children on his feast day of December 6th.

As time passed, the legend of Saint Nicholas morphed into that of the present-bearing Father Christmas in Europe. Later, the Dutch brought with them to America the story of “Sinterklaas,” which evolved to become the Santa Claus we know and love today.

Unearthing Saint Nick

According to the head of Antalya’s Monument Authority, Cemil Karabayram, an electronic survey revealed a gap beneath the church where the shrine was concealed. He told the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News of the find, “We believe this shrine has not been damaged at all, but it is quite difficult to get to as there are mosaics on the floor.”

The unearthing of the tomb came as a surprise, as the remains of Saint Nicholas were believed to have been moved from their original interment site in Demre to a final resting place in Bari’s Basilica di San Nicola -- a longtime destination for Christians. Excavation leader professor Sema Dogan believes that the discovery will increase tourist interest in the area.


Laborious work lies ahead for the excavation team, which will now scale each tile individually before removing them completely using a mold. Continued Karabayram, “We have obtained very good results but the real work starts now. We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of Saint Nicholas.” 

Learn more about studying archaeology

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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