By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
Lived 4th cent
Rank and group: Bishop
Feast day: 6 December
Patron saint: Russia, children, sailors, pawnbrokers, unmarried girls
Attributes: Golden balls, money bags
Status: Roman Martyrology
One of the most popular saints, the cult of Saint Nicholas (aka Sint Klae, Sanctus Nicolaus) is based on legend. Nearly nothing about his life is known other than he was a bishop of Myra in Lycia, and that his alleged relics were stolen in 1087 by Italian merchants and are now enshrined at Bari. Many of Nicholas' legends were promulgated by Simon Metaphrastes in the 10th century. The ceremony of the boy bishop, which still survives at Monterrat in Catalonia, is connected to an observance of Saint Nicholas.
A member of Nicholas' congregation mourned because he had three daughters and no money. Unable to pay the dowry for them to be married off, they seemed doomed to a life of prostitution. Nicholas decided to give each of them a dowry, a golden ball. He did not desire thanks, and must have been an incredibly accurate thrower, because he anonymously tossed them through a window as the daughters slept. This legend reflects the nature of pure giving, which does not ask for return but only serves to make the other person happy.
Amidst a famine, a sinister merchant began advertising salted pork. Nicholas suspicious, and asked to see the barrels. He blessed them, and when he opened the barrels there were three naked little boys, their pickled corpses brought back to life. This is though to represent his magnetism that could bring even those hardened, metaphorically pickled in brine, back to youthful innocence.