There are many different stories about Santa Claus around the world, but most of them are based on the same person: St Nicholas. The person born in 270 CE, who became the bishop of Myra and, due to his kindness, was sanctified after his death.
During his life, St Nicholas always helped the poor, but was especially kind and giving to children. The legend says that, to make sure people in need would accept his help, he would put money in their shoes, at night. This is what inspired the stories behind Santa Claus, who now leaves gifts, at night, for the well behaved.
After his death, he was buried in Myra, in modern day Türkiye, but the exact location of his remains is still a mystery. Some believe his body was moved and still lies in the floor of the St Nicholas Church in Antalya. Others however think the saint’s remains have had a longer journey over time.
In 1169, early crusaders are thought to have moved St Nicolas’ relics to Bari, Italy. From Italy, it ended up in Jerpoint Park, a small medieval town close to Kilkenny, in Ireland, sometime around the 1200s or 1300s. Opinions on how the saint got to Ireland are again split, but what is certain is that the cemetery of St Nicholas’ Church in the Park has a tomb slab depicting Nicholas.
One version of the legend says that the crusaders who brought the relics from Türkiye to Italy were Normans from Kilkenny. There is historic evidence to support this theory, Normans being known to have participated in the Crusades, as well as being avid religious relics collectors. The two knights, also depicted on the effigy at Jerpoint Abbey, either stole the entire body or just part of it and brought it to Ireland where the tomb is today.
Another version says that it was the French family of de Frainets who brought the saint from Myra to Italy in 1169. When the family moved to Nice, they took the remains with them, but when the Normans lost power in France, the family relocated in Jerpoint where they also buried the relics.
In 1839, the site of the tomb was moved to its current location, Nathan Mannion, head of exhibitions and programmes at EPIC, Ireland’s emigration museum, told the BBC. “You would think that when it was moved in 1839, they may have taken that opportunity to see what was exactly inside”, he said, pointing to the lack of any actual evidence that the remains of the saint are buried under the tombstone.
Regardless of the concrete evidence, locals believe in the legend and so does the mayor of Kilkenny who intends to make a tourist attraction out of the tomb. “It’s not only Kilkenny’s best-kept secret, it’s probably Ireland’s best-kept secret. Santa Claus is a Kilkenny man and hardly anyone knows about it. But I’m determined to change this. There’s great potential to develop a tourist-related business here”, Mayor Andrew McGuinness said.
Although Jerpoint Park is now privately owned, tours are being organised at request for interested visitors.