St. Nicholas

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Nicholas, the Saint:
Images from East & West

The exhibit is in the lobby cases at the Holland Museum in Holland, Michigan, from November 12, 2008—February 2, 2009. Free admission.

Icon image

St Nicholas icon by Ukrainian iconographer Mykola Benedyshchuk, who founded in 1996 the first Ukrainian school of iconography since the Russian Revolution
St Nicholas Center Collection

Christians everywhere, both East and West, honor Nicholas for his faithful life and seek to follow his example. He is patron saint for many groups. Most prominent are children, sailors, and innocents falsely accused or imprisoned.

A saint is a real person who lived a life devoted to God and is a worthy example of holiness, virtue, kindness, or charity. Nicholas was such a person.

Nicholas was born about AD 270 in the Greek town of Patara, in what is now Turkey. After his wealthy parents died in an epidemic, Nicholas was cared for by his uncle, a priest. Nicholas used all the money he inherited to help others. As a young man he was chosen to be Bishop of Myra (now Demre in Turkey).

This popular saint, who modeled care of children and compassionate giving, has morphed into the modern American Santa Claus.

In the East, Orthodox and Byzantine churches honor Saint Nicholas as one of the Church Fathers. They call him Wonderworker or Miracleworker.

Saint Nicholas icons often show him flanked by Jesus, with the Book of Gospels, and Mary the Blessed Mother, with a bishop's stole or omophorion. These symbolize God's favor resting upon him. They also recall the Council of Nicaea where the vision of Jesus and Mary confirmed Nicholas' vocation as a bishop.

Nicholas' bones were brought to Bari, Italy, in 1087 and his shrine is in Bari's Basilica di San Nicola. Pilgrims still flock to Bari to pray at the saint's crypt. They come from many places, especially Italy and Russia.

Bari's image for Nicholas is distinctive—how is it like both the Western and Eastern images?

Western Images Eastern Images Bari Images

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