Children look away now! For Turkish archaeologists believe they have found the tomb of the original Santa Claus, otherwise known as Saint Nicholas.
An intact tomb has been found underneath Saint Nicholas Church, in the Demre district of Turkey’s south-west province of Antalya.
Demre was built on the ruins of Myra, where St Nicholas was thought to have lived in the 4th Century.
Until now, the bones of St Nicholas were believed to be in Bari, Italy.
It had been thought they were taken by Italian merchants in 1087 when Myra – at the time a Greek town – was invaded by the Seljuk Turks.
By then St Nicholas was already revered among Christians for his generosity, in particular to children, and his humility.
The church of St Nicholas in Demre is a popular destination for pilgrims as the site of St Nicholas’s final resting place, and archaeological excavations have been taking place there for 20 years.
Cemil Karabayram, Antalya Director of Surveying and Monuments, said recent scientific and technological studies had revealed the existence of an intact tomb under the church.
“The temple on the ground of the church is in good condition,” he told Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper. “We believe that it has received no damage so far. But it is hard to enter it because there are stones with motifs on the ground. These stones should be scaled one by one and then removed.”
He also said that during a study of old documents they had found notes saying the bones taken to Bari had belonged to another priest.
A CT scan, a geo-radar and eight academics had been brought in for the final stages of the excavation work.
“The world’s eyes will be set on here. We claim that St Nicholas has been kept in this temple without any damage. We are at the last stage. If we get the results, Antalya’s tourism will gain big momentum,” he told the newspaper.
Saint Nicholas’s kindness became legendary over the centuries and he was popularised as Father Christmas who gives presents to children. The Dutch took their version “Sinterklaas” when they settled in America, where he became the Santa Claus many know today.