Nicholas is thought to have been born in Patara, Lycia, a province of Asia Minor. Myra was the capital, close to the ocean, and an episcopal see. When the see became vacant, Nicholas was chosen bishop and became famous and beloved for his extraordinary piety, zeal and many astonishing miracles.
He suffered imprisonment for his faith and made a glorious confession during the persecution of Diocletian. He was also present at the Council of Nicaea and there condemned Arianism.
St. Methodius asserts that thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, Myra alone was untouched by the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.
Legend has it that the tradition of gift giving attached to St. Nicholas comes from the fact that he once helped a father and his three daughters.
Hearing that they were destitute, and therefore could find no husbands, he slipped a bag of gold through the family’s window under the cover of darkness. At intervals, he did the same for the second and third girl, saving all three from a life of want and shame.
Nicholas died and was buried in his city of Myra, and by the time of Justinian, there was already a basilica built in his honour in Constantinople. Later, his relics were moved to the city of Bari, Italy, and many miracles were attributed to his intercession.
The devotion to St. Nicholas spread not only in the East but also in the West, and his image was amply reproduced, second only to that of Our Lady.
In the later Middle Ages, there were nearly four hundred churches in England alone dedicated to him. In the East, St. Nicholas is venerated as patron of sailors, and in the West, of children.
In several European countries he is beloved as the pre-Christmas “gift giver”. The modern “Santa Claus” is a secular corruption of the saint.