The Evil Butcher

Children coming out of tub
Detail: The Life & Miracles of Saint Nicholas
Artist: Alexander Boguslawski
St. Nicholas Center Collection

Three small children were gleaning in the fields. As they worked and played, they wandered off into the town. Walking about and exploring, the children forgot the time.

When it was late and the sun going down, the children were hungry, tired and lost. They came to a lighted butcher's shop, knocked and said, "We are lost and hungry. May we eat and sleep?" "Oh, yes," came the reply, "do come in."

As they enter, the butcher takes a sharp knife, cuts them up, and puts them in a large salting tub. Seven years pass.

A knock comes on the door. Bishop Saint Nicholas appears, saying to the evil butcher, "Open your large salting tub!" The saint puts his hand on the tub and, appealing to God, says, "Rise up, children." The little children awake and stand up. Their families joyfully welcome them home.

Ever since St. Nicholas has been the patron and protector of children.

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The older, original version of this story is about three students traveling away to school. They stopped in an inn and were drugged, robbed, and murdered. Over the years, especially in France and Western Europe, these grown male students came to be seen as little children. Sometimes it is an evil innkeeper, other times an evil butcher that does them in. In France the evil butcher became St. Nicholas servant and has followed him ever since. This is the most popular story in France, set to a well-known and beloved song. The image of Saint Nicholas with children in a tub at his feet is the most widespread image of the saint in Western Europe.

Two fully illustrated children's stories of the traditional French tale:

The Legend of St. Nicolas

The Legende of St. Nicolas

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