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Tomb of 'Santa Claus' discovered beneath Turkish church

The grave was discovered at the St Nicholas Church in Antalya province [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 4 October, 2017

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Turkish archaeologists believe that they have found the remains of a Christian saint famed for his generosity who is said to be the inspiration for Santa Claus.

A recently uncovered grave site in Turkey is believed to be the resting place of St Nicholas, a third century Christian bishop whose famed acts of generosity formed the basis for the Santa Claus myth.

Archaeologists discovered the previously undisturbed grave under a church in Turkey's Antalya province, the Daily Sabah reported.

According to authorities in the province, the archaeologists were performing surveys of the ground below St Nicholas Church.

The church itself is situated in the south-western province's Demre district, which is said to be the birthplace of the church's namesake.

"We believe this shrine has not been damaged at all, but it is quite difficult to get to it as there are mosaics on the floor," Cemil Karabayram, the head of Antalya's Monument Authority, said.

Karabayram added that the in order to reach the remains thought to belong to St Nicholas, each tile has to be scaled and removed individually.

St Nicholas was born around the year 280 AD and was orphaned at a young age following an epidemic that swept through his homeland. Following this tragedy, he dedicated himself to helping those in need and became famed for his generosity.

Such was his reputation for giving that legends developed, describing St Nicholas sneaking into people's homes and leaving money for them.

When he died in 343 AD, he was buried at a church in the Turkish town of Demre. His bones, however, are thought to have been removed during the Crusades of the 11th century and relocated to Italy.

Many Catholics and Orthodox Christians today maintain that the saint's bones, which are considered as sacred relics, lie in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari.

Turkish experts, however, have said that the bones stolen from Demre could have been those of an anonymous priest.

Turkish media reported earlier this year that Demre district is undergoing a series of renovations in order to preserve and restore its heritage spots. 

Among the locations being renovated is the home of St Nicholas, who also served as bishop of Myra, which is currently known as Demre.

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