The Translation of Saint Nicholas, Confessor

by Nicephorus, who wrote the earliest account, thought to have been written within a week of the saint's arrival in Bari, the 9th of May 1087. Translated from the Latin by Charles W. Jones, who wrote, "In recent centuries [Nicephorus'] artistry has been too much neglected. He is a good reporter—honest, graphic, inquisitive, and sensitive. The other three [primary source] authors, whatever their independent contributions, largely depend on him.

Here is his complete statement:1

From Vatican MS. lat. 5074, fos, 5v - 10v

Commemorating the voyage of the translation of St. Nicholas' relics from Myra in Asia Minor, to Bari, Italy, from 20 April until 9 May, 1087
Carmela Boccasile 2002
St Nicholas Center Collection

Here begins the Prologue which Nicephorus, the least of all clerks, composed for

The Translation of Saint Nicholas, Confessor

Just as the hand of the sculptor is dextrous in giving shape to a bust of his subject, so is it adept in objectifying the inherent worth of his creation. Just as it is hard to endow a conception with life, however comparable it is with the life of the true object, and to unify all that is apprehended by the artist's several discrete senses, so perhaps may it be realized how hard it is to treat particularities meaningfully with the worthless tools of physics, ethics, and logic. To such demanding representation only those should devote themselves who, according to the accepted categories of active and contemplative life, can sing out with the sweet voice of the muse and make it their care step-by-step to match feeling with feeling, word with word, according to the sophistic principles of the Peripatetics. In this instance I, Nicephorus, the lowliest of all clerks in Bari, am unskilled in art and untrained in the lucid style required to express the inexpressible virtues as well as the leonine actions of this confessor of God. Yet however unworthy, steadied by his support I shall begin to condense into brief form a written report of his Translation.

Lord Curcorius, the perspicacious judge, together with other Barian magnates, and even officials of the holy churches, exercised the greatest pressure to get me to compose this work. Yielding to their requests because of my love for this saint, supported by the faith they had in me even though I felt that I was too unskilled for a task of such finesse, I agreed to put my hand to the plow. Under these conditions, I beg the learned readers and masters trained in the liberal arts that they bear only the slightest animosity against this extenuated verbal exercise.


The Plan and Competition from Venice

When Almighty God, in His indulgent but secret Providence, once determined that the city of Bari and the whole province of Apulia was to be visited and ennobled by a most propitious and lasting splendor, His Divine Providence was the very act itself. It was His Providence that determined that some wise and illustrious men of Bari should make their way to Antioch with their ships laden with grain and other merchandise. With the favor of God, they discussed together how they might take away from the city of Myra, either going or coming, the body of the most blessed confessor of Christ, Nicholas. Devoting themselves and their possessions to this consuming desire, they conspired together. While all of them, with the help of God, eagerly began to lay the groundwork and to shape their plans, it came about that they learned that the Venetians wanted to carry out the very same project that they were meditating. At that moment the Venetians, too, were headed for Antioch for similar commercial reasons. When the Barians had verified that fact, in checking on the Venetians' actions they found out that the Venetians had equipped themselves with iron instruments with which they might, if they could get there first, enter the Myran shrine of blessed Nicholas the confessor. If the Lord should favor them, they could break open the floor of the church and carry away the holy corpse.

After the plans of the Venetians had been bared, the Barians pledged each other to work so energetically that they would outdo not only the Venetians but all those stationed in Myra. So they quickly put up their merchandise for sale and bought whatever was most available to them at the moment. Quickly finishing up both the buying and the selling they hurried on their way to the city of Myra. Gaining port they made fast their ships in the normal manner. Then they sent out two Jerusalem pilgrims whom they had picked up at Antioch. One of them was Greek, but the other was of French birth. These two could more intelligently explore the surroundings, being wary of the Turks, who had villainously ravaged the district. After they had made their way to the holy body and discovered that the Turks were not there, they swiftly returned to announce that their company could carry out their plan very safely. Immediately on receiving this welcome advice, forty-seven of them, well armed, devoutly hurried to the holy corpse. However others not dissimilarly clad in arms stayed behind to guard the ships for fear of the Turks, who had invaded that region and cruelly depopulated it. Having wisely divided in two companies in this way, they set about gaining their desire.

Coming to the Shrine with its Guardians

Reconstuction of Church in Myra
Photo: C Myers

Now the forty-seven, on coming to the holy see of the pious confessor, when they discovered as many as four custodians around the place, politely entered the reverend shrine and worshiped at the holy altar. Then in an excess of holy, burning desire, they said to the custodians, "Brothers, show us where lies the physical body of the holy confessor." Thinking because of an inadequate mastery of languages that they were asking for the place of oblation, the guardians first showed them the place from which with a sponge they extracted the holy liquor. Then they showed how the holy body was hidden away at that place.

Yet because the holy basilica was set apart from the habitations of men, the guardians began to fear that the holy body might be taken from them. They anxiously queried the Barians, "Why do you ask these questions? Can it be that you want to take the body? Don't you know that we cannot possibly assent to such a thing—indeed, we would rather die than permit him to be taken?"

To these queries the Barians replied, "Know for a fact that we have come to your shores for that very purpose; and therefore we ask you to show us the true location, so that our efforts will not be wasted."

Then the custodians, seeing that the Barians were doubtful about the place they had been shown, reaffirmed what had been said, adding, "We are sorry that we told you the truth about the holy liquor and the corpse. But whether it be the place or not, the holy confessor of God will never let you touch him. So leave before these actions come to the ears of the citizens."

Sent out by a Vision

The Barians now realized that their courteous requests would not soften the guards. They changed to hot arguments. But yet, they chose their words with saintly, ingenuity—words which seemed as blameless as possible—according to the saying of scripture, "Good is the deceit which harms no one.2 So they said, "You should know that when the pope of the city of Rome came to our city of Bari, accompanied by many archbishops and a retinue of clergy and laity, he himself sent us to these parts to transfer this sacred body there. He did all this because that confessor of God appeared to him in his sleep and requested to be transported to our land. However, even though ships cannot sail on good will alone, we are prepared to pay you any price you name for this great treasure, in order that we may receive your benediction and leave here peacefully."

When the custodians saw them prepared to smash the pavement of the church and carry away the body, they were very nearly struck dumb.

The color left their faces, and blood drained from their veins.
They wailed and rent their priestly garments from their breasts.
In sorrow they tried to pull hair from their heads and beards,
And desired more to depart from this life on earth
Than to give over the saint they had for so many ages cherished.

What more can I say? The offering of gold is tossed aside like dung, the blandishing words shunned like adders' venom. The custodians tried every means of escape, to let the townsfolk know the whole course of events. When the Barians realized what they were trying to do, they cannily ordered some of their number to bind the custodians and others to guard the gates of the basilica, as well as the plazas and roads, so that none of the inhabitants of the district could learn of their acts. The custodians were to be held until everything they planned had been done.

Miracle of the Phial

Bottles of the Manna of St. Nicholas have been revered through the centuries for the protection of the devout.
Lillo Dellino 2002
St Nicholas Center Collection

After this, one of the two priests who were taking part, holding in his hands a glass phial full of the holy liquid, wanted to join his companions' parley, to help the process along. He placed the phial on top of a not-very-high column which rested on the altar stead. As he mingled with them while they wasted time in various discussions about what they should do, a very startling thing happened: the phial fell from its place on top of the column and with a loud clang struck the marble pavement under which the saint exuded the liquid. At this accident, all of them crowded around. When they found the phial whole and unbroken, full of wonder the Barians broke into praises to the high lord. At that point they knew for a fact that the confessor of God himself had gotten their attention by that sound, and was saying, "Why are you so slothful in performing your duty? It is my will that I leave here with you. This is the spot in which I have rested through many cycles of years. Regard that as a miracle; but now leave, taking my body with you. For under my protection all Barians will prosper. You will lead happy lives under my rule."

Confrontation and a Second Vision

Thereupon a very daring young man broke out of the group, anxious to perform the duty. He threateningly clutched one of the custodians, with drawn sword, and swore that he would run him through if he did not indicate the sepulcher containing the holy body. When another of the custodians, more prudent and saintly than the rest, saw how the sailor raged, he approached the threatener and implored him to moderate his remarks: "Why," he said, "do you manhandle a servant of God in this way? Look there at the place where the holy liquid comes out. Obviously the body of the saint must lie in that same place. But we know this for a fact from the tales of men of old and also from our own experience: that many emperors and other potentates have done their best to carry out what you now plan; but they had no luck because the saint of God was unwilling. [Cf. Magnentius 48]. Yet perhaps it may happen through you, because the confessor of God himself last year warned us in a vision that his abode would be moved elsewhere."

Servant of God Nicolas appearing in a vision concerning Myra prior to the translation
Carmela Boccasile 2002
St Nicholas Center Collection

When the Barians heard that, they plied the custodian with questions about the meaning of the vision. He replied to them, "Already a year has passed since Nicholas, the servant of God, made himself known to three residents. He admonished them through a vision to inform the inhabitants of the city of Myra, who had fled in fear of the Turks to a mountain twelve stades away, that they should return to live and guard the city. Otherwise they should know that he would migrate elsewhere. How true that prediction was we now see. So put up the sword, soften your threats, once for all rid yourself of those belligerent looks. If it is granted to you that the confessor of God cooperate in your actions, then depart in peace without anger or hurt on our part. But though by his holy admonitions he holds us blameworthy, we believe that by the will of God he will not thus easily desert his own humble servants."

Opening the Tomb

Thereupon the young man we have told about, whose name was Matthew, agreed to what had been said, together with his company. He put away the sword and took up the iron mallet. Manfully striking the marble slab of the pavement which stretched out above the holy body, he broke it away bit by bit. He had not dug a very deep hole before his companions insisted on working with him. They found a very white marble tomb which covered an interior coffin. They were exceedingly fearful of striking it, dreading the something terrible that might happen to them. But Matthew, who was more audacious than the others, could not longer restrain his hot intent; he scoffed at the notion that any evil would come to him.

Bravely taking the hammer from his fellows, he struck savagely. When the tomb was open, he found the whole coffin full of holy liquid up to the umbilicus of the saintly body. Both of the priests, who had ordered the smashing, and some of the sailors and others of the company who had taken part in the action, were standing there. Immediately such a wave of delightful perfume arose that everyone thought himself to be standing in God's paradise. This scent not only permeated the sanctuary where they were, but it was borne on the breezes that played round about the way to the sea, nearly three miles away, to the other company, As they breathed it in, each was at once overwhelmed with joy, knowing that the holy confessor of Christ had consented to join their company.

After this, Matthew conducted himself even more rashly. In the whole episode he had daringly stopped at nothing, so to speak. Now, still clad in shoes, he impetuously lowered himself into the sacred sarcophagus. Once down, he bathed both hands in the liquid. He found the holy relics swimming in an envelopment of all perfumes, which licked at the venerable priests as if in insatiable embrace. This envelopment made it perfectly clear that the authentic confessor of Christ was freely granting himself to the Barians. As they watched, the local guardians most reverently began to weep, saying, "The saint is yours, for he has never accorded such treatment to others. Alas for sorrow, how great an evil has happened to our fatherland."

The Guardians' Lament

And they chokingly addressed the saint: "Our lord, dearest father, why dost thou desert us when we are afflicted by so many miseries? Here thou art, pious to strangers, impious to thy children. Lo, as we see, thou deemest as nothing all the tokens of our service, which our fathers and we have meted out to thy glory. Dost thou thus repay thy subjects for such benefits? Alas, now thou wilt cast a dark curtain over the whole province of Lycia. Lord, why didst thou not before this adjudge thy servants to death rather than accept thy separation from us? From kind father thou showest thyself unkind stepfather, and dost cast off thy beloved sons as if the worst of stepsons. Alas, how lamentably will we lead all the days of our lives while we view ourselves and our sons together with all our goods evilly effaced! How can we escape?"

Ancient Icon Stays in Myra

Reproduction of a 19th century St Nicholas icon in the Antalya Museum
St Nicholas Center Collection

Meanwhile Matthew, who was carefully examining the relics of the most holy body, found them all intact. Another, the priest whose name was Grimoald, very carefully arranged them in a new silk covering for the body. Some others in the company wanted to take away an ancient wonder-working icon painted in the likeness of Saint Nicholas. But they were definitely forbidden to do so. With respect to the icon, it was promptly made plain that the confessor of Christ never wished to have the parties there at Myra completely bereft.

Procession to Ships

Then the Barians, filled with joy, quickly took up their arms and, while the first priest led the chant, they lifted the holy body onto their shoulders and walked back to the ships, singing praises to God. Their fellows, hearing the sounds of the processional hymns, which were being rendered to God for the gift of a shepherd, advanced to meet them. Gaily congratulating each other, they praised Almighty God in unison for the great gift with which he had crowned the Barians. Certainly they shed many tears that day, knowing themselves to be unworthy of such goodness.

Lament of Myra Townsfolk

Meanwhile, all these events had been broadcast by those custodians who had been held prisoners, but who were freed as the Barians left. Why should I prolong the story? Almost at once a countless-crowd of men and women of all ages gathered at the seashore, all in the grip of heavy sorrow. Weepingly they bemoaned their evil loss of so much good. And they cried out to our Barians in these words: "Who are you, and from where do you come here, daring to commit such ravage on our possessions? What is the source of such savagery stirring within you, that you should dare to touch our possession, hallowed from antiquity, deposited in this sacred spot? Look you, according to our Aeolic chronograph, 775 years have passed in which no one has committed such an act, be he representative of emperors or of whatever human quality. The high-thundering Lord has clearly approved this unprecedented act for you; and His most blessed confessor Nicholas, who has left us orphaned, has completely reestablished his fatherhood among you unknowns."

Not being able to contain themselves, clad and shod they waded into the sea, and as they wailed they grabbed the rails of the ships, crying out to the rowers, "Give back our father and our lord, our master and nourisher, who in every way has by his protection kept us safe from visible foes. If you would give all or even a part of his body to us, we would not be so completely divorced from our great patron."

At these dirges the Barians who were close enough to hear sympathized with the tender words. They said in reply, "You should know that we have come out of the territories of Apulia and have made our way here from the city of Bari because of a revelation that we should take the holy body to that place. Why do you so irrationally flay yourselves for these calamitous happenings? just as you have said, since the time that the holy confessor of God died, 775 years have passed. It is enough that you have had his benefits, not you alone but your progenitors. Now it is his desire to leave here and to shed his light on other parts of the world. Surely you can be abundantly comforted by the fact that you have a sepulcher full of the holy liquid, which is left for you. Moreover, you have the icon, from which you have derived many benefits.3 It is only right that so important and illustrious a state as Bari should enjoy this great patronage."

While this parley was going on, the bereaved, catching sight of one of the almsmen of that orphaned and desolated church, seized him. While they pounded him, blow after blow, they accused him of trading the holy body for money, in league with his associates. But then the most blessed confessor of Christ freed him from their pounding, and they stood dumbfounded, acknowledging that he was blameless.

Then the holy body was honorifically settled in a very small alcove of the ship. As the sun set upon the waves, with favorable wind the Barians began quietly to sail into deep water. At that point the natives, seeing that they were separated from their great patron by distance and that the Barians had left port to return to us with God and the saint . . . they were overwhelmed with chagrin. They filled both shore and air with their sorrowful dirges, which on the testimony of the Barians they could hear echoing nearly two miles away. Indeed there were very few among them who could even with great effort keep themselves from tears, as they sympathized with such wretchedness.

The Return Journey

Image: Michele Damiani, the 920th year
2007 Festival brochure: St Nicholas Center Collection

Holding their course for a long distance, they rested that night at a place called Caccavus. Then after crossing a craggy stretch, they came to the deep sea. They began to be very much impeded by tides and by the north wind which is called Aquilo, which blew against them all the way to the state of Patara, where the confessor of God was born. Since they were being driven from their course with great danger to themselves, they began to think that the saint of God had never wished to go with them, and would keep them from going further unless they returned him.

Relics Pilfered by Five Sailors

After expending every bit of energy they had, yet not being able to proceed beyond, possibly, twenty-four miles, they unwillingly altered their course to a place called Perdikca, with all their strength gone. When they disembarked, they saw that the sea was as peaceful as they could have wanted. Not having the strength to start out, they began to accuse each other that some one among them had pilfered something from the relics of the saint. At once the sailors decided that they should bring out the Gospels and that every sailor should swear in turn that no one of them had stolen anything from them. Because, if any had dared to do so, they would have to consider what could be done with whatever came from the holy body so that they could return it to its proper place. Then five of the sailors made known that they had something from the holy relics. When they had returned it and put it down with the lot, both these five and all the rest of the company swore that no one of them had any more of the holy relics. By this incident, no one was left in doubt that it was in accordance with the will of God. It was God's will that they should be delayed until the relics of the holy body were rendered intact. They were thereby given to understand that the confessor of God himself willed that his relics should never in any way be divided.

O wondrous God, how ineffable is Thy power, since not through the voice of any angel nor through the revelation of any saint whatsoever, nor through the most saintly Nicholas himself (who in this affair rises in esteem), indeed not even through dreams of Thy seamen, didst Thou impart understanding, but through the inanimate elements. Up to the moment when they returned to the saint his own, Thou didst hide the answer from them.

Then, after celebrating mass, with quieted winds and becalmed seaswell, they left the shore under swollen sails. With joy among them all, they came to a place which is called Markiano.

The Saint Gives Reassurance

At length, after they had passed Culfus Trachiae, it happened that one of the sailors named Disigius sank into a deep sleep in which Saint Nicholas appeared to him and said, "Don't fear, for I am with you. At the end of twenty days we will all arrive together at the city of Bari." When he had awakened and told his associates what he had seen, they were all joyful and greatly delighted.

They came to Ceresanus and there, after they had eaten, they took to the water. After they had sailed a fast course for two days and one night, covering fifty miles, they came to the island of Milos, where they rested for the night. Leaving at dawn, they pursued their course.

While the sailors were navigating their way to Bari, a dove touched the container with the relics, as a kiss, and then flew around the ship showing praise and blessing to all for they carried the magnificent patron saint
Carmela Boccasile, 2002
St Nicholas Center Collection
Monument commemorating the stop in San Giorgio
Photo: Marcus VanKan
Used by permission

A Sign of Blessing

I cannot pass over a marvelous thing that happened to them, telling it just as those who saw it narrated it to me. While they were holding to the open sea, a single little bird rather like a lark settled on the starboard of the ship, where the holy body was being carried, and hopped over the casket as if it were looking for food from the men. He calmly landed on the hand of one of the sailors, the one who was then officer of that deck. From there he turned and made his way to where the holy body lay at rest. Softly singing, he gently touched the carrier in which the holy relics lay. Now, my good brethren, how much is to be praised Almighty God, who shows not only men but even dumb animals how to praise and venerate His saintly confessor. For the song of the bird was laudation, and the kiss of the beak is to be taken as the touch which he extended in faith to the holy body. Then he circled the whole ship and its crew as he sang. He seemed to be extending to them all his praise and blessing for what they had done to the magnificent, miracle-working shepherd. Then, having rendered his compliant oblation, he flew away and they saw him no more.

Not long thereafter they came to an island which in Aeolic is called Staphnu, in Latin Bonapolla. Then they came to the primary port called Geraca, from which they quite lightheartedly entered the city of Monobasia. Leaving there, they went a short distance to Methon, where they bought wine and some necessities. Thereafter they came to Sukea, where they rested for a short while. They did not deviate from their course at any point, for the holy confessor of Christ was their cheer. When they arrived at the port of Saint George, the martyr of Christ, which is four miles away from the city of Bari, they built a casket in which they arranged the holy body, removing it from its carrier.

To the Glory of Bari

How many glories are associated with that city of Bari! That it should transcend others as does the Samaritan, I will try to set forth in fewest words: O Bari with all thy residents, at one with the angelic Jerusalem, exultingly rejoice in thy infinite favors! Rejoice Bari without restraint, full of delight! Rejoice Bari, overwhelmed with so many eulogies! Rejoice Bari, drawing to thyself this new legacy of salvation! Rejoice that thou shouldst prove more worthy of praise than all the strong points of Apulia! Rejoice that thou art crowned in triumphant victory! For "Nicholas" in Greek means "Victory of the People" in Latin. He truly was Victor when he acquired the Barians and Apulians as protector, freeing them from the grip of infirmities. Rejoice that through most blessed Nicholas thou mayest come to learn of thy leaders enrolled among the choirs of angels! Rejoice that thou wilt be known through all zones of the world through news of thy celebrity! O with what reverence the Omnipotent looks upon thee! O with what sweet savor He subjects thee to his loving kindness! O with what clear light of His aspect He illumines thee, as He commends thee to the care of the holy angels! O with what watchful guard day and night, hours and moments, He most carefully hovers over thee but assuredly not through thee, who art weighed down with mighty mountains of sin, but through His most blessed confessor Nicholas, with whom the legions of the angels attend!

San Nicola di Bari
Anna Maria Di Terlizzi: Linoleum block print
St Nicholas Center Collection

Most beloved brothers, let us all take stock, and with every fiber let us turn together to the loving Lord, who has with true love made us shine white with the beauty of this ethereal pearl. For if with whole heart we shall have been converted to the Lord Himself, not only will we rejoice in this egregious gift but we will be rewarded with the ultimate gift of heavenly good to come. Our witnesses may be the Lycian land—his states of Myra and Patara. If the ancient precepts and present powers of this confessor of God follow their true course, that cynosure will not diminish one jot in his power. And therefore we must liberate ourselves from every form of adultery, perjury, homicide, thievery, animosity, falsity, malignity, false accusation, detraction, pride, and whatsoever beclouds our faith. Interposing against these evils the lovable virtues, strengthening our faithfulness, but always in behalf of God and with love of His confessor, coming together here from every direction to make our oblations and offer our sacred prayers, no one of us should be guilty of any malice or evil, or commit any underhand act; for if that saint of God should observe in us, his own humble servants, scorn of evil and striving for good, not only will he manifest his traditional powers in our behalf, but through his own intervention he will effect our possession of the heavenly kingdom.

Arrival in Bari

Now after these Barians had set their course for the port of their city, their relatives came to meet them in little boats. They were told how the mariners had brought with them the body of the most blessed confessor. When some of the greeters came to understand that fact, they quickly returned to shore, shouting it at the top of their voices to all those standing around. As the news spread everywhere through the city, everyone ran together in a crowd to witness the marvelous and heartwarming spectacle. The Barian clergy, dressed in their sacred vestments, extending the blessings of heaven, walked down with hurried steps to the port, looking to receive the holy body.

The Sailors' Pledge

One of the privileges granted the sailors was the right to be buried outside the basilica that was built to honor St. Nicholas. Their names mark the places to this day.
Photos: C Myers

Meanwhile, the naval officers and men, through an appointed representative, made an announcement to the citizens, saying, "In the course of conveying the holy body, we pledged ourselves that, together with you, we would erect a church worthy of him in the domanial court which is called the Court of the Catapan. We ask your approval of our pledge."

Dissent, Moderated by Abbot Elias

At this announcement, a violent dissent sprang up among the listeners. Some (who seemed to be a plurality) praised the proposals; others said nay, hoping that the holy confessor of God would be borne to the episcopal see. While the two parties were quarreling, Dom Elias, the venerable abbot of the monastery of Saint Benedict in this city, boarded the ships. After bestowing holy kisses, he addressed the leaders:

You intelligent men here at hand, may He stir your hearts
To grant to me the cherished saint—
He to whom we most truly must strive to render thanks
Until that populace joins with you
In what you have pledged to the saint and seek for the people,
The domanial court, which should form a home for dear Nicholas.

Everyone in conscience agreed with his thoughtful request. They took up the holy body. Then it was ordered that all the church bells should ring in honor of the saint. Gently lowering the holy relic, with vigilant care they placed it on the altar of Saint Benedict. In order to manifest that no force was being exercised by any party in the city, all of the sailors had disposed of their arms ahead of time.

The Archbishop Comes, Rekindling Conflict

Then word was hastily sent to Lord Urso, archbishop of Bari, that he should hurry back as fast as possible to this marvellous and most exalted event. At the moment he was away at Canusia [Canosa], carrying out holy obligations. At once he retraced his steps to the city of Bari. His horse did not gallop as fast as his ardent desire made him pant to get back. When he entered the city he went at once to the holy body. Upon rendering due devotion to it, he moved on to his own see, rejoicing in such a prize. He directed that it should reverently be conveyed to his episcopal palace.

The minute that the sailors and their associates heard about his directive, they and the people who had agreed to their proposal all ran together to oppose the change. When the prelate learned of their antagonism, he drew back from immediate action. Then the most noble and sagacious leaders of Bari were sent to him as legates, with the request that he accede to their desire.

But when the legates returned to their clients without a favorable response, they began to be seriously aroused by the thought that the prelate was himself plotting to carry away the body by force or guile. So when both parties quickly had armed themselves, they set to fighting. As the struggle went on, it came about that two adolescents, one from each camp, were killed. We truly believe and affirm that by the high favor of the Lord their souls will be placed in eternal blessedness because both died in their very commendable quest for the holy corpse. The antagonists carried them with highest honor to the monastery, with the armed men and other people chanting Kyrie eleison and singing other hymns.

Basilica di San Nicola, built over the crypt
Photo: C Myers

With bared heads they took the body of the saint through the back gate of the monastery, on the seaward side, and bore it to the designated domanial court, into the Church of Saint Eustratius the Martyr of Christ. (That church,4 together with churches of other saints, was leveled to the ground some days later. On their sites and on some other space from the same court, the Barians erected the most glorious and magnificent church in honor of most blessed Nicholas and of those saints. This project was managed from the beginning by Dom Abbot Elias together with some nobles of Bari. It was at the request of the archbishop himself and of all the citizens that he had charge of the holy body. In order that it should not be disturbed by anyone wanting to take it by force, it was guarded day and night by different detachments of armed men as long as it was honorifically resting in that church.)

The most sacred body of Saint Nicholas, confessor of Jesus Christ, who was inclined to leave the city of Myra, was borne away on the eleventh day of April, and on the ninth day of May he now had a fresh start, one thousand and eighty-seven years having passed from the Incarnation of the Lord, Indiction X.

Miracles of Healing

And now, if God will allow it, I will record how the Translation first affected the people.

Pilgrimage scene showing Saint Nicolas' tomb in Bari, with pilgrims seeking healing. From the predella of the Quaratesi triptych from San Niccolo, Florence.
Painting is in the Washington National Gallery

Gentile da Fabriano
Print: St Nicholas Center Collection

Invalids possessed of all kinds of illnesses, who had flocked from all parts of the city, were restored to health when in deep devotion they rested beside the body in the monastery. Among them that night and on Monday, forty-seven people of both sexes and differing ages: among these a very noble Barian and an armenius [pauper?] with his whole left side withered, three lunatics and a deaf and dumb man, two cripples, two humpbacked children, three blind, a man of Pisan blood with withered arm and hand and clubbed feet. There were others, too numerous to list here.

Then on Tuesday nine infirm were cured at the monastery, out of the great multitude of people flowing in from the villages and towns and cities round about. Up to the fourth hour of that day, through the saint a very small infant with arm and hand withered and with a spotted eye, and a deaf beggarwoman lame in both feet, and another small infant infested with a demon, and an infant girl who was a demoniac armenia, a woman invenaciensis [?] wholly withered, and another woman possessed of a grave disease, and a lunatic woman also bedridden with a very bad infirmity; a paralytic lunatic and a pilgrim with a withered left hand and blind eyes. Later that day we had taken the holy body to the court. Fourteen infirm, too many to describe here, were cured.

On Wednesday, twenty-nine were cured: first, a woman from the village called Tellizzus [Terlizzi] who was totally withered, and a girl from the city of Betuntus [Bitontol], and a demoniac from the city of Ascalon [Ascoli Satrian]), and a woman from the state of Taranto; three lunatics; two blind men; and another woman bent over double; and a woman from the town of Saint Vitus, which is under the castle of Mount Scagiosus, who, gravely troubled, many times had been given up for dead. I earnestly queried her when she was healed concerning what she had seen. She said that a great hawk had flown over her, and had landed on her breast and spread his wings to cover her. As he left, suddenly an odor followed, so sweet that she thought she was in the garden of paradise. Some others who were cured said the same thing. In this regard, undoubtedly it is to be believed that it was the angel of that holy confessor, who guards over the holy body day after day. A Barian girl, suffering very much from pains in the knees. And others whom we haven't time to tell about.

On Thursday the confessor of God revealed himself through a vision to a venerable monk, directing him to speak to everyone who might despair of healing, because by the wish of the Omnipotent Lord he had to go away to parts of Greece; yet before he went, they would see a great miracle performed. And so it happened, for on that very day a young man was made whole who had been possessed by a demon for five years and was deaf, dumb, and blind.

On Friday Ernulphus, bishop of Betuntus, came to the holy body with a great procession, in prayer to the Lord and to the holy confessor Nicholas. Now on that day the bishop of Bari, with bishop Guidonius Oritanus and Leo, bishop of Cupersanus, and with three other bishops and all their clergy and countless people, peacefully came in all humility to adore the holy corpse. Likewise at the ninth hour of the Sabbath eleven infirm persons, on approaching Saint Nicholas, recovered their lost health.

Dearest brethren, we ought reverently and piously to love God and the Lord profoundly and earnestly, and to follow His precepts, Who, after a brief sojourn in this life, made His saints possessors of the heavenly reaches, while lighting up their relics with great and renowned gifts of miracles.

Jesus Christ, God and our Lord, Who with God the Father and the Holy Ghost, lives and reigns for ever, world without end. AMEN. Here ends the tract on the Translation of Saint Nicholas, confessor and bishop.

Translation Monument in San Giorgio

  1. Biblioteca Hagiographica Latina Antiquae et Mediae Aetatis. no. 6179. Iuse as text Nitti 1937, derived from Vatican MS. Lat. 5074. The other readily available printed edition, in Anallecta Bollandiana. IV (1885), 161–192 [BHL no. 6186), transcribed from Ghent MS 289, compared with Ghent MS 499, is a weird conflation of Nicephorus' with Archdeacon John's account, at times virtually incomprehensible because of its inflated rhetoric. The Vatican MS was used in the 18th cent. by Falconius, pp. 131–138. His text closely agrees with Nitti di Vito's, and I believe that they quite accurately represent what Nicephorus wrote. Falconius also edited the anonymous Greek account (abridged) and Archdeacon John's account as well. Another version, based on the Beneventan MS, edited by Putignani (Naples 1771), pp. 551–568, had wide circulation (see Anrich 11, 171–173, et passim). Leib, chap. 3, pp. 51–74. For no convincing reasons the date of translation has been questioned; a full summary of the authenticating evidence appears in Anal. Boll. LIX (1941,) 337. back
  2. Author unknown. back
  3. In 1362 a fleet of Pierre de Lusignan, a last Crusader, took the town of Myra and transported to Cyprus the image of Nicholas, supposedly this one, which is also at Antalya. Bréhier, Eglise, pp. 297–305, sketches the life of this fascinating man. back
  4. This parenthetical statement may well have been added later. back

Translated by Charles W. Jones in Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend by Charles W. Jones, copyright © 1978 University of Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 176–193. Used by permission.
Reformatted with headings by St. Nicholas Center.

back to top