Nicholas was an important 4th century Greek bishop at the city of Myra in southern Anatolia. During a lifetime of beneficial deeds, he is said to have saved the lives of three virgins by offering gifts that secures their release. The sea traders of Myra elevated their kindly bishop into the patron saint of sailors, but the rise of Italian power in the region led to his body being stolen from his grave in Myra. The sailors of Bari and Venice hoped that his fame (and body parts) would protect their own busy ports and dangerous journeys.
The seafaring Dutch then adopt Nicholas as their maritime saint and take this idea across to their new territories in North America, where his image changes constantly until he is transformed from St Nicholas to Sinterklaas, finally becoming Santa Claus. This white bearded, red coated jovial gift-giver is brought back across the Atlantic to Britain, where his myth merges with the earlier pagan Father Christmas.
‘Santa – a Life’ by Jeremy Seal (Picador 2006)
‘The Basilica of St Nicholas’ by Gerado Cioffari (Levante 2009)
About Christopher Bradley
Expert in the history and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. As a professional tour guide and lecturer he has led groups throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Has written extensively on Arabia and is the author of 'The Discovery Guide to Yemen', 'Insight Guide to the Silk Road' and Berlitz Guides to The Red Sea; Cairo; Abu Dhabi, Oman and Nile Cruising.
As a photographer has pictures represented by four photographic libraries. As a film producer and cameraman he has made documentaries for the BBC, National Geographic TV and Channel 4.