The halo sheen alone symbolizes the man they called Nicholas was a direct recipient of Jupiter’s benevolent light.
No other saint is quite like Nicholas.
He is the only saint given equal veneration in both modern and Orthodox Christian churches and during the era when Europe was the center of civilization, Nicholas was chosen as the patron saint of Russia, Germany, the Nether Countries, Italy, as well as the converted Christians of Asia Minor. His feast day is still celebrated with as much zeal today as it was centuries ago.
All of the aforementioned notoriety is due mainly to the benevolent reputation generated by Nicholas’ acts of generosity and mercy. In other words, the Turkish bishop’s deeds are perceived to be thoroughly Jupiterian in nature. So Jupiterian in fact, Nicholas’ feast day of December 6th occurs smack dab during the mid-point of Sagittarius, the sign ruled by The King of Planets, itself.
When looking at Nicholas’ iconography through the ages, many depictions of the Christian saint emphasize the radiance of Jupiter’s holy rays by having him portrayed with a halo comprised of a golden hue so bright, the brilliant shine causes one to practically squint as with the image above.
The Legendary Deeds of Nicholas Artistically Immortalized
Nicholas’ acts of generosity are the tenets of his sainthood. Be they factual or legendary tall tales, his benevolent deeds are the source behind what made this man stand above not only average souls but attain a level of highest regard within the School of Saints. Intriguingly, the Turkish bishop’s saintly persona is given even further transcendence by the astrological association and symbolism of his actions.
Jupiterian Deeds of Generosity
Unlike the traditional development of those placed under the category of “Savior” where their time on earth commences while in a state of humble poverty, Nicholas’ beginning is a proper reflection befitting a son of Jupiter by being born into a family of extreme wealth. This inherited wealth would be the main source behind the bishop’s benevolent reputation by Nicholas having the financial resources to bestow blessings on those around him and usually in their hour of desperate need. Along with his traditional depiction of red bishop’s robes and snow white hair, the predominant imagery associated with the saint is of Nicholas holding small satchels of gold, as seen below. Even with that said whenever the saint spread his wealth to help others, he preferred to do so with anonymity and usually in as furtive a manner possible, such as during the wee hours of night.
An image of the benevolent St. Nicholas seen holding multiple satchels of gold representing his access to his family’s abundant fortune
The Stockings were hung by the chimney…..to dry
Nicholas’ best known, dare I say, most mythic deed of generosity was for three sisters who were members of his local congregation. The bishop heard of the girls’ dowries being spent by their father, a gambler who was compelled to drain the funds set aside for each daughter to prevent the spread of his ever growing debts.
During the 4th century, when a girl came of age and had no dowry when it came time to marry, she often had no other choice than to prostitute herself in order to survive. To prevent this from being the fate of all 3 sisters, in the middle of the night Nicholas crept to the window of the family’s sitting room and proceeded to toss 3 bags of gold through an open window, 1 for each girl.
Variations of legend tell of the bags landing in each of their shoes, since shoes were typically kept near the outer perimeter of an ancient Turkish sitting room. Other versions of the tale tell of the girls washing their stockings before retiring and leaving them to dry over the sitting room’s hearth. From Nicholas’ covert perspective, the drying stockings served as the perfect receptacles to receive the gold sacks he tossed through the window in the dark of night.
Hmmmm, stockings hanging over a hearth, or fireplace, having goodies, or goldies, secretly placed in them during the middle of the night?
Sound at all Santa-ishly familiar?
The girls’ father, by all accounts, upon hearing the downstairs walls of his home being pelted with heavy objects snuck downstairs just in time to see the shadowy image of a man hurriedly retreating into the darkness. After chasing and eventually tackling the intruder to the ground, the father was shocked to discover the mystery man was his bishop, who insisted it wasn’t he who left the surprise packages but rather the satchels of gold were gifts from God.
This tale may not be of the miraculous kind but by far is the most beloved of Nicholas’ legends. As a matter of Art Historical fact, Nicholas’ generosity towards the 3 sisters became a favorite theme depicted by many prominent artists during the Renaissance a millennia later, such as:
Fra Angelico – “St. Nicholas Giving Dowries to 3 Girls”, 1437
Gentile Fabriano “St. Nicholas & the 3 Gold Balls”, 1425
I’ll See Your Jupiterian Deed of Generosity & Raise You Some Mercy
Nicholas is the patron saint of the unjustly accused. This association is based on a legend of 3 men who were wrongfully sentenced to death by a Roman governor due to Caesar’s representative accepting bribes in exchange for passing false judgement against them. Incensed by such blatant injustice, the Turkish bishop took a goodly chunk of his family’s fortune and not only surpassed the total amount offered in bribes, the Sagittarian saint also managed to give the Roman official a thorough tongue lashing of shame, as well. With the soap-boxing clergy’s “help”, the governor eventually saw the error of his money making ways and proceeded to pardon the men by having each of their lives mercifully spared. The Russian Orthodox Church embraced this Nicholean legend wholeheartedly as evidenced by the 1888 painting created by Ilya Rapin entitled “St. Nicholas Spares the Lives of Three Innocents Wrongfully Accused.”
Ilya Rapin, “St. Nicholas Spares the Lives of Three Innocents”, 1888
I’ll See Your Jupiterian Deeds of Generosity & Mercy AND Raise the Dead
“Here’s the story, Of a man named Butcher. Who was living with 3 boys of his own. They were 4 men living in a famine all together, yet they were not alone.”
Nicholas is also the patron saint of butchers…. and not because he made a killer rump roast. His association with those who work with meat and their by-products is stemmed in a deed of mercy and generosity that was divinely elevated to a miraculous state due to the raising of the dead.
Legend tells of a famine hitting the Turkish town of Myrna where Nicholas presided as bishop, along with the town’s surrounding areas and islands. Upon being informed of one island being particularly hard hit along with its resident butcher being rumored to have taken drastic measures, the bishop immediately heaved ship and sailed to the island as fast as humanly possible. Despite his taking fast and furious action, the saint’s last minute, lightning moves proved to be futile. Nicholas was horrified to discover the butcher had actually butchered his own children. To further desecrate these heinous acts of filicide, the deranged man had already placed his sons’ bodies in a large salting tub which following adequate marinading he intended to sell the boys’ sliced and diced flesh in the edible form of pies on the black market.
Instead of hacking the butcher up some big slices of vendetta, the holy man instead fell to his knees and transferred every bit of his revved up fury into prayer.
And Lo! As the legend goes, the 3 boys were resurrected. Each son was brought back to life and even more importantly – all in one piece.
This powerful, all be it gruesome, tale was another embraced legend that was artistically immortalized as with the image below, a medieval depiction of the letter “S” embellished by the miracle of St. Nicholas resurrecting the three boys from the “S” as in “S”alting Tub.
At this point of our story, it should be quite apparent how these legendary acts of generosity elevated Nicholas to the status of a saint but they don’t necessarily explain how an icon of goodwill loved the world over such as Santa Claus came into being.
All to be revealed in Part IV!
Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.