Monday, 28 December 2009

Where should the remains of St Nicholas reside?

One of the news stories on the BBC today related to the bones of St Nicholas, perhaps better known as Santa Claus (Jonathan Head, "Turkey seeks return of Santa Claus' bones", BBC December 28, 2009). Nikolaos was Bishop of Myra in Lycia in southern Turkey. His body was placed in a sarcophagus in the Byzantine church in the city. (This Byzantine church was restored in the 19th century by the Russian Tsar, Alexander II.)

The remains were removed by Italians in 1087 and placed in the church at Bari in southern Italy.

Now a Turkish archaeologist, Professor Nevzat Cevik, from Demre (the modern town on the site of Myra) has called for the bones to be returned, and Turkish authorities are reported to be taking the claim seriously.

The issue will no doubt provide fascinating discussions: a culturally Greek Christian bishop from a now Muslim Turkey. But I suspect the publicity will help to boost visitors to Demre and the town's famous plastic Santa.

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Cultural Property Observer said...

Such a claim could only be a "moral one," but one wonders about the Turks' own "clean hands" in such matters. The tombs of many Saints were desecrated when the Ottomans took Constantinople. Moreover, most of the countries' Christians of Greek descent were "ethnically cleansed" in the 1920's. When one bases one's claim on "moral reasons," such issues naturally arise as well.

Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews said...

It's a tricky one. Should the Turkish authorities invoke the spirit of NAGPRA? Can we really regard looting almost a thousand years ago as something that requirres redress? If so, ought Pope Benedict XVI return the obelisk in St Peter's Square to Egypt?

I've put a link to this post from my blog, if that's okay.

David Gill said...

I enjoyed seeing how you developed the story.
Best wishes for 2010,

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