Bearing Gifts in the Night
All that We Have: The Image of Saint Nicholas of Myra in the Daily Mass Altar
Published on December 14-15, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
In the right niche on the back of the altar in the Daily Mass Chapel is the image of Saint Nicholas of Myra (ca. 270-ca. 345 or 352). He was the patron of the mission that served the Catholics in Rose Hill in Mercer County from 1894 to 1941. A Church there was named in his honor and consecrated on his feast in 1894. It was torn down in 1949 and all that remains of the old mission is a 1905 rectory that had since been sold off and a cemetery that is still being used by the parish.
The image enshrined in our altar is based on a mosaic on the bottom tier of the iconostasis at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Isaac in Saint Petersburg, Russia. That mosaic, sketched out by Carl Timoleon (also known as TA) von Neff (1804-1877), was made by IC Shapovalov, MP Muravyov, and MI Shchetinin of the Imperial Mosaic Workshop. The image portrays Saint Nicholas as a white-bearded bishop of the Eastern Church vested for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. He wears a sakkos cuffed at the wrists by brocaded epimanikia. Draped over his blue tunic are other brocaded vestments: epitrachelion and epigonation, a white omophorion, and a decorated red mantle. Crowned with a red mitre, he raises his right hand in a blessing and holds a richly covered Book of the Gospels in his left hand.
Nicholas was born around 270 in Patara, a city in the Roman province of Lycia (in what is now southwestern Turkey), to Epiphanius and Joanna, a wealthy Christian couple. Legend has him throwing three purses of gold during the night into the home of a man who was so poor that he could not afford proper dowries for his three daughters. Many of the details of his life have not survived the centuries, but, his gesture of generosity has. He has been remembered for generations as Santa Claus, that bearded old man bearing gifts in the night.
Nicholas was made a bishop of Myra (modern day Demre, Turkey), the nearby capital city of Lycia. As a bishop, he attended the first Council of Nicaea where, in a fit of fervor, he was said to have struck the heretic Arius across the face for denying the divinity of Christ.
He was buried in Myra after his death. But, in 1087, Italian sailors stole his remains and brought them to the city of Bari where they now rest in the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola; for this reason, he is also known as Saint Nicholas of Bari.
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, pawnbrokers and prisoners, mariners and merchants, butchers, bakers, and brides. He has been regarded by so many as a powerful intercessor that the Church in the East calls him Thaumaturgus (ο Θαυματουργός), the ‘Wonderworker.’ The Church celebrates his feast on December 6, the day of his death in the year 345 or 352.