The Deceitful Borrower

Pony cart over man
Medieval French glass: A legend of Saint Nicolas, York Minster, York, England
Photo: Gareth Foster Used by permission

A man borrowed money, swearing an on an icon of St. Nicholas, saying he would repay the sum as soon as possible. This was the only guarantee given for the loan.

A long time passed and the lender asked for the loan to be repaid. The borrower replied, "I have paid you."

The lender took the matter to court. The debtor came to the hearing with a hollow staff, which he'd filled with gold. He stood, leaning on the staff. When asked to state his case, swearing that what he said was true, he handed the staff to the lender to hold while he made his statement. He swore he'd given more to the lender than was owed. Then the man reached out for his staff. The lender, knowing nothing of the fraud, handed it back.

The borrower went merrily upon his way. As he walked along, he became very, very sleepy and lay down in the pathway, falling fast asleep. As he slept, a fast-moving cart rounded the corner, driving right over the man. The man was killed and the staff broken open with gold spilling out all over the ground.

The lender heard what had happened and rushed to the spot. Seeing evidence of the fraud, bystanders urged him to pick up the gold and go on his way. "No," said the man. "If the deceitful man is not raised again to life by the merits of St. Nicholas, I will not take the gold. If he is raised up, I'll ask to be baptized and will become a Christian."

The dead man was raised and the lender went to be baptized.

Adapted from The Golden Legend or Lives Of The Saints, Vol. II, compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275, Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483.

Sometimes the story is told this way: A pawnbroker loaned money to a friend with no collateral except the friend's oath to St. Nicholas that the debt would be repaid when due. However, when the time comes for repayment, the friend refused to pay. So they take the case to court. As above, the borrower hands his walking stick to the pawnbroker as he tells the judge that he's repaid the debt. The court decides for the debtor and the pawnbroker is dismayed.

On the way home, the dishonest borrower is tired, lies down by the road and is run over by a horse and wagon. He is killed and the walking stick is broken open, money spilling on the road. A passersby sees the gold and calls the pawnbroker and judge. The pawnbroker counts the gold and it is just the amount he was owed. He refuses to take his dead friend's money.

The pawnbroker then prays that if St. Nicholas could expose and take the life of the fraudulent debtor, surely the good and merciful Saint could return his friend to life. Because the pawnbroker is kind and generous, the Saint intercedes on behalf of the friend, who is returned to life and repays his debt.

This story contributed to Saint Nicholas becoming the patron saint of pawnbrokers, the protector of financial integrity, and guardian of good faith commitments.

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