A 1,500-year-old church named after Saint Nicholas has reopened in Türkiye following an 18-month restoration.
It follows the recent discovery of his tomb and a mosaic floor in the original church which became submerged under the Mediterranean Sea in what’s now the town of Demre.
Archaeologists also unearthed a fresco of Jesus at the church which is an official UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Turkish government funded the restoration and at the reopening Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said he is looking forward to the church becoming a place of worship and pilgrimage for Christians for “decades to come.” That’s despite Türkiye’s population being overwhelmingly Muslim.
“This church, one of the most outstanding works of Eastern Roman art with its architecture and decorations, has great value for the Christian world. The restoration will enable the Church of St. Nicholas to host many more visitors and worshippers in the decades to come,” Mr. Ersoy proclaimed.
The restoration included the installation of protective roofing at the site and repair of the church’s extensive wall paintings and floor mosaics, reflecting “essential works in Byzantine art and architecture.”
Work was also done at the church which is a metre below sea level, to protect it from rain and groundwater and improve its accessibility.
St Nicholas was a Christian bishop of Greek descent in the Asia Minor city of Myra which is in modern Türkiye.
He became renowned for his miraculous intercessions, his generosity and his secret gift-giving.
Historians have struggled to separate reality from legend in his remarkable story of faith.
He followed the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 to give to the needy and to store up treasures for yourself in Heaven by praying every day, by fasting, and by performing good deeds.
He became known as a wonder worker because of those deeds, some of which were considered miracles.
Nicholas used his entire inheritance to assist the poor, the sick, and the suffering and dedicated his life to serving God.
He also followed the caution of Christ at the start of Matthew 6: Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.
One of his most famous secret deeds was paying the dowry of three sisters from a poor family so that they wouldn’t be sold into slavery.
On three separate occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home providing the dowries to enable the sisters to marry well.
The bags of gold which were tossed through an open window are said to have landed in stockings and shoes left to dry in front of a fire.
Under the Roman Empire of Diocletian who ruthlessly persecuted Christians Nicholas was exiled and jailed for his faith.
He was eventually released and lived to see Constantine come to power and legalise Christianity.
He is said to have been a devoted supporter of Trinitarianism and it’s claimed he was one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.
Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors, merchants, children, students, archers, brewers, pawnbrokers, repentant thieves and unmarried people.
He died on December 6, 343. The anniversary of his passing is still a day of celebration in countries like Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands where it is their main day of gift giving.
Recalling the story of the bags of gold, children hang up their stockings near the fire and leave carrots and hay in their shoes in the hope that Saint Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts.
His gift giving is also recognised at Christmas everywhere around the world where his name has evolved into Santa Claus.