Nicholas was born in Asia Minor, in modern day Turkey, then in the Roman Empire. He was the only child of Christian parents. The child, watched over by his family and the Christian community, became very religious. His parents died during an outbreak of plague when he was very young. His uncle, the Bishop of Patara, became his guardian. Nicholas was left a considerable sum of money by his parents, which he gave away to a poor man and his family. With this act of charity, Nicholas saved the man’s three daughters from a life of prostitution. Nicholas gave the money secretly, and he would leave a bag of money for the poor family at night, who never discovered who their benefactor was. St Nicholas was widely loved for his charity throughout his life.
Nicholas moved to the city of Myra in modern Turkey. Because of his piety and charity, he was elected as bishop by the Christians, as was the custom at that time. During the persecution by the pagan emperor Galerius, Nicholas was arrested and thrown in prison. Nicholas' life was in great danger. However, after Constantine the Great’s victory over Galerius, Nicholas was released from prison with the other Christians, and returned to his duties as Bishop.
Nicholas was an able bishop, and led the local Christians and ensured that they were not tainted by any of the heresies that were so common in the period. According to some traditions, the saint attended the Council of Nicaea and helped draw up the Nicene Creed that is still central to Catholic theology.
Nicholas was a zealous missionary, and helped convert many pagans in remote areas of Asia Minor. He was also tireless in the pursuit of justice, and in one instance saved three condemned men from execution.
The accounts all agree that St. Nicholas died and was buried in the city of Myra. St Nicholas became a much loved saint, and there are churches and altars dedicated to him all over the Christian World from India to Ireland.
Today his relics rest in the Basilica of Bari in southern Italy.
In the eastern Orthodox Church, it is widely believed that St. Nicholas appears to sailors during storms at sea and guides them to safety.
In the western Catholic Churches, St. Nicholas is associated with the giving of gifts at Christmas time because of his many charitable works. He is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Father Christmas and Santa Claus.
Nicholas believed that charity was essential for every Christian - when we are charitable, we are imitating Christ.
He said that “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”
St. Nicholas is still a beloved saint around the world.