St. Nicholas

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A Pilgrim's First-Person Report

by J M Rosenthal

St-Nicolas-de-Port sign
Sign coming in to St-Nicolas-de-Port
Anglican World/JMR

The Basilica of St Nicolas, in the sleepy town of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, Lorraine, France, celebrates the Translation of the Relics of St Nicholas from Myra to Italy, with great enthusiasm and splendour.

Basilique Saint-Nicolas-de-Port nave
Nave of the Basilique Saint-Nicolas-de-Port
Anglican World/JMR

As one approaches the rather bleak town named for our saint, a great surprise faces you at once. Driving in from Nancy, one is confronted with the grandeur of a mighty church, rising like a phoenix from the greyness of the industrial area in which it is set. The church is enormous and beautiful.

The clergy and people of the church were busy about cleaning and sorting things as I arrived. Having been to the basilica before, I quickly realised this indeed was the very best day to be there, as numerous, never before seen images of St Nicholas appeared all over the church. Banners, old and new, various processional relics and an enormous gold vested figure of a dark bearded, pleasant smiling, saint, all delighted us as we awaited the great Mass and Procession in the afternoon.

St. Nicolas banner
St. Nicolas banner in procession
Anglican World/JMR

At 3.30 p.m. heaven and earth met amidst clouds of incense, holy and happy music, preaching, eucharist and a procession that will be remembered for many years to come. Children, young, old, men, women, all taking part, singing lustily a French Nicolas hymn that is still ringing in my ears."Saint Nicolas", they sang, as the procession, with all in the pews joining, passed the stationary shrine of Nicholas and moved its way back to the high altar. Devotions including a powerful litany were sung and the great organ sounded as we happily departed. Well, there was a stop. A stall was set up in the rear of the church with lovely St Nicholas statues, prints and items for sale. We did our part to say the least.

Also after the mass, the faithful then proceeded to various chapels to be anointed with the liquid "manna" from the Tomb of Saint Nicholas in Bari.

St. Nicolas procession
St. Nicolas statue in procession
Anglican World/JMR

In some ways it was hard to leave St Nicolas de Port so quickly. It was all so wonderful, so holy, and indeed, fun. Many might ask why can't church going be like this more often. I wish it were so.

Holy Nicholas, pray with us. Amen.


Lay Canon James Rosenthal is founder of the English Speaking St Nicholas Society and lives in Canterbury, England.

Excerpt from an article in press, Bollettino di San Nicola, Centro Studi Nicolaiani, Bari, Italy

More images from St Nicolas-de-Port

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