Spoiler alert to all the kids out there: Santa Claus isn’t real, which is a shame because unlike most imaginary beings, this one gives you presents once a year. He was, however, based on Saint Nicholas, a man that lived during the fourth century who did indeed have a habit of handing out gifts to people in secret.
Now, as reported by The Telegraph, an intrepid team of archaeologists has claimed to have found the tomb of the saint himself. It’s located beneath a church in Demre, in southern Turkey – and if you needed any more confirmation that he’s not living it up in Lapland with elves and flying reindeer, this is it. Sorry, younglings.
The church, in Antalya province, was surveyed recently using things like ground-penetrating radar, and the team noticed a small, human-sized gap beneath the surface, among other things.
All the evidence points towards there being a tomb there, and apparently, it’s a good bet that Saint Nicholas’ remains will be found there. Getting to them will be tricky. The floor of the ancient church is covered in mosaics, which will have to be removed extremely carefully.
A fresco on the walls of the ancient church. Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock
Saint Nicholas died back in the year 343, but for centuries was interred at the church until disappearing in the 11th century. There’s a chance that Italian smugglers could have thieved his bones, but according to Turkish archaeologists, they may have stolen the wrong ones. The tomb that was suspected of belonging to the gift-giver is probably that of another, unknown priest, and it is likely that the long-dead philanthropist is still resting in peace underneath Demre.
Interestingly, Saint Nicholas is thought to have been born in the same city. Unlike the Santa Claus of legend, he doesn’t seem to have gotten around that much.
The inside of Saint Nicholas’ Church, where the eponymous man is thought to still be buried. Bahadir Yeniceri/Shutterstock
Either way, it’s definitely this religious figure that the modern stories of Father Christmas originate from. Apart from being something of a Christian Jedi – his ability to resurrect people that were literally butchered, for example, gained him the moniker of “Nikolas the Wonderworker” – he sounded like a fairly lovely human, helping out those in need.
One story has him anonymously throwing purses of money into the window of a house in which three destitute girls doomed to become prostitutes lived. Whether or not tales like this were true proved irrelevant to the Dutch, who translated his name into “Sinterklaas” – which, you guessed it, is where we get the name Santa Claus from.