Legends of St. Nicholas
The facts about St. Nicholas may be sketchy, but legends abound. Two of the most famous tell of the bishop's special protection of young women and children. There was in Myra, it is said, a nobleman who had three daughters. However, the man was so poor that he had no dowries for his daughters, and he feared they would have to enter lives of prostitution or slavery to survive. Nicholas, who had a large inherited fortune, heard of the poor family. He went secretly to the nobleman's house at night where, as he stood outside watching, a moonbeam shone directly into an open window. He threw through the window a bag of gold, which fell at the father's feet, providing a dowry for the oldest daughter. Nicholas repeated his act of charity a second night, and then a third, at which time the father, curious as to his secret benefactor, discovered the bishop. Nicholas swore the father to secrecy. This legend is the basis for the custom of placing gifts or gold coins in the shoes, stockings, or baskets of children during the night before the feast of St. Nicholas.

The second legend tells of an Asian gentleman who sent his two sons to be educated in Athens, and who instructed them to stop on their way to receive a blessing from the bishop Nicholas. The boys arrived in Myra at evening and decided to stay overnight at an inn. During the night, the innkeeper murdered the boys and cut their bodies into pieces, which he hid in a pickling tub. Nicholas, warned of the gory event in a vision, went quickly to the inn, where he charged the innkeeper with the crime. The man confessed to Nicholas and took him to the tub where the remains were hidden. There, as the bishop prayed, the boys' bodies were miraculously restored to wholeness, and they rose up living from the tub and fell at the feet of the bishop. Nicholas refused their thanks, telling them instead to give glory to God who had done the miracle. He then blessed them and sent them on their way. This vivid illustration of St. Nicholas's protection of children is often depicted in art showing him, in his episcopal robes, standing beside a tub of naked children.

Another legend talks of the governor Eustathius, who had taken a bribe to condemn to death three innocent men. At the time fixed for their execution Nicholas came to the place, stayed the hands of the executioner, and released the prisoners. Then he turned to Eustathius and did not cease to reproach him until he admitted his crime and expressed his penitence. There were present on this occasion three imperial officers who were on their way to duty in Phrygia. Later, when they were back again in Constantinople, the jealousy of the prefect Ablavius caused them to be imprisoned on false charges and an order for their death was procured from the Emperor Constantine. When the officers heard this they remembered the example they had witnessed of the powerful love of justice of the Bishop of Myra and they prayed to God that through his merits and by his instrumentality then might yet be saved. That night St. Nicholas appeared in a dream to Constantine, and told him with threats to release the three innocent men, and Ablavius experienced the same thing. In the morning the Emperor and the prefect compared notes, and the condemned men were sent for and questioned. When he heard that they had called on the name of the Nicholas of Myra who had appeared to him, Constantine set them free and sent them to the bishop with a letter asking him not to threaten him any more but to pray for the peace of the world. For long this was the most famous miracle of St. Nicholas, and at the time of St. Methodius was the only thing generally known about him.

St. Nicholas is venerated as the patron saint of several classes of people, especially, in the East, of sailors and in the West of children. The first of these patronage is probably due to the legend that during his life time, he appeared to storm tossed mariners who invoked his aid off the coast of Lycia and brought them safely to port. Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas, following a common Eastern custom, had their “star of St. Nicholas” and wished one another a good voyage in the phrase “May St. Nicholas hold the tiller”.

St. Nicholas Day     Christmas Index