The original stone mosaic floors where St. Nicholas—the inspiration for Santa Claus—would have stood during mass and where his tomb is located within the building, have been uncovered by archaeologists excavating the Church of St. Nicholas in Demre, Turkey. Since 1982, the church has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To access the remains of the third-century basilica below, an upper layer of Byzantine-era mosaic tiles were removed. After the older church was flooded due to rising sea levels, the current structure was erected over top its remains in the Middle Ages.
“We are talking about the floor on which St. Nicholas’s feet stepped. This is an extremely important discovery, the first find from that period,” Osman Eravşar, the head of the provincial cultural heritage preservation board in Antalya, told Demirören News Agency.
Excavations at the church have been ongoing since 2017, when experts identified the seventh- or eighth-century church as St. Nicholas’s final resting place. While electronically surveying the space, experts discovered empty spaces between the floor and the foundations.
The site was originally intended to be St. Nicholas’s final resting place, but Crusaders transported his bones to Bari, Italy in 1087. During the removal, they moved the empty burial chamber to a niche on the side of the chapel.
“His sarcophagus must have been placed in a special place and that is the part with three apses covered with a dome. There we have discovered the fresco depicting the scene where Jesus is holding the Bible in his left hand and making the sign of blessing with his right hand,” Eravşar told the Daily Sabah.
“There are probably other bones that are said to belong to him, or at least other iconographic fragments,” Eraysar explained. With the burial site now below sea level, remains left in situ could be damaged by flooding and humidity.
St. Nicholas was an early Christian bishop who lived between 270 and 343 C.E. During his lifetime he gave gifts to children, including tossing gold coins down the chimney of a poor family that was considering selling its daughters into prostitution. His generous spirit was immortalized in the tale of Santa Claus.