by F. H. Lee from The Children's Book of Saints
(St Nicholas' Day: December 6)
THREE hundred years after Christ lived, a baby boy called Nicholas was born in Patara, in Lycia. His parents were very rich and were very happy at his birth.
His parents died when Nicholas was a young man, and he was then very rich. Yet he cared nothing for money, and, vowing he would use his wealth to help the poor and needy, he became a monk in a monastery near by.
Now in Patara there lived a poor nobleman who had lost all his money, and he and his three daughters were like to starve. Nor could he ever provide a marriage dower or gift for them, and without this no one would wed them. Sad and troubled, he could think of no other way than to take them to the market the next day and sell them as slaves to rich men.
When Nicholas heard of their distress he went secretly to the house at night, and, as the nobleman sat alone and sorrowful, Nicholas dropped a bag of gold through the open window.
The nobleman was amazed and stooped to pick it up. He could see no one near, but his heart rejoiced that now his eldest daughter would have a wedding dowry, and the next day she and her lover made their vows to each other and thanked Heaven for their unknown friend.
The next night the nobleman sat thinking of his other two daughters who must surely be sold, when suddenly a second and a larger bag of gold was dropped in at the open window. Again St Nicholas was gone before the nobleman could reach the door, and on the morrow the second daughter and her lover also made their vows to each other and thanked Heaven for their unknown friend.
The nobleman now made up his mind to keep watch, so he stole out and hid himself near the house. As soon as the sun went down he heard the sound of hurried footsteps, and St Nicholas passed by, dropping a third bag of gold into the open window.
Running quickly from his hiding-place, the nobleman seized Nicholas by his robe and cried, "Oh, Nicholas, servant of God, why seek you to hide yourself?"
"That is my way of making others happy," replied Nicholas, "and I pray you not to tell anyone of it, not even your daughters."
The nobleman promised, and the third daughter was betrothed to her lover. But somehow the secret was told and written down for all to read.
After this Nicholas started on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As the ship set sail a great storm came on. The sailors toiled in vain, for the waves rose mountains high, and the ship seemed like to break in two.
Suddenly the sailors saw Nicholas kneeling in prayer upon the deck, and as he prayed, the sea began to grow calm, and the ship was saved and reached the harbour in time.
"Truly," said the Captain, "from this time onward whenever sailors are in danger let them call upon the name of Nicholas, who will be the patron saint of seamen everywhere."
During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, St Nicholas went barefooted and bareheaded, that he might be humble in places where Christ Himself had trod, and on his return he was made Bishop of Myra.
Soon after this a famine spread over the land, and the people were desperate with hunger. Nicholas could do nothing but pray; then there came to him a dream in which he saw three ships laden with corn for Alexandria, and a voice said, " Go! Buy food for the people."
Awaking from sleep, he found three pieces of gold beside his bed, and going at once to the harbour, he saw the ships and asked to buy the corn.
"Nay, Father," said the sailors, "this wheat is for the Emperor, and we dare not sell even one measure full." "But," said Nicholas, "if you do as I ask, God will not allow your store to be less."
So they sold corn to Nicholas, who was able not only to feed his people, but to have seeds for sowing in his fields for future days.
One night on his travels St Nicholas came to an inn, and being tired and hungry, he asked for food and shelter there. The innkeeper bade him come in and gladly set about preparing a meal of pickled meat for his guest. When, however, Nicholas looked at the food, he turned sharply to the innkeeper, saying, " Where is the rest of this pickled pork?"
"It is in the tub over there," answered the innkeeper, beginning to be uneasy.
At this Nicholas crossed over to the tub, then lifting his eyes to heaven, he made the sign of the Cross over it. As he did so there rose from the strange tub the beautiful forms of three little boys whom the innkeeper had cruelly slain and pickled.
On finding his evil ways discovered, the innkeeper begged for mercy, and St Nicholas, having restored the now happy children to their mother, prayed that God would forgive the man's sins.
No wonder Nicholas became ever afterwards the guardian saint of little children, and his feast-day is gladness for them, for does he not come while they are asleep and fill their little stockings or shoes with gifts, and hasten off that no one may ever see him?
From The Children's Book of Saints by F. H. Lee, illustrated by Honor C. Appleton, London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1940, pages 13-17.