Just who was St Nicholas?
Saint Nicholas was born in 260AD in Patara, a coastal town in what is now Turkey. Nicholas was neither fat nor jolly but developed a reputation as a fiery, wiry, and defiant defender of church doctrine during the Great Persecution in 303, when Bibles were burned and priests made to renounce Christianity or face execution.
Nicholas defied these edicts and spent years in prison before the Roman emperor Constantine ended Christian persecution in 313. Nicholas’s fame lived long after his death because he was associated with many miracles, and reverence for him continues to this day independent of his Christmas connection. He is the protector of many types of people, from orphans to sailors to prisoners. His habit of leaving anonymous gifts for the poor of the then-Greek city he lived in is believed to have inspired the modern day legend of Santa Claus, St Nick or Sinterklaas.
He was eventually consecrated Bishop of Myra, just miles from his hometown. The beloved Bishop died in 343AD.
How did St Nicholas come to be buried in Ireland?
It is believed that Crusaders raided his Myra grave to bring back prized relics of the saint to Europe – with such relics being worth more than gold or diamonds to the church or monastery that possessed them. Multiple relics, in the form of bone fragments, ended up in Venice, the departure point for some Crusaders to the Holy Land.
However, a legend also claims that some of St Nicholas’s bones were brought to Ireland by two Norman Crusaders and were buried in a Kilkenny church at Jerpoint. In the medieval period, Jerpoint was one of the most famous of Ireland’s monastic settlements and boasted strong links with the Crusades.
They buried those remains, with all due reverence, in the church that to this day bears the saint’s name.
Can I visit the burial site?
Yes you can! The Tomb of Saint Nicholas is clear to see, the grave’s stone slab is carved with the image of a cleric with the heads of two knights behind each shoulder, said to be those of the two crusaders who brought Nicholas’s remains to Ireland. As Joe O’Connell, who owns the site, says: “Nowhere in the world has a history like this, I believe. This place is the best-kept secret in Ireland. Since moving here, there have been so many coincidences occurring, too. Our wedding anniversary is December 6, which, ironically, is St Nicholas Day, and our son, who was born before we moved here, is called Nicholas, who is called after his grandfather and great-grandfather.“They say that coincidences are God’s way of staying anonymous, so I firmly believe that his remains are here.”
Just contact one of our Travel Advisors and they can include it in your itinerary on your next visit to Ireland. We offer a full 5-star service, from designed itineraries, booking hotels, restaurants and experiences, to our renowned Driver Guides escorting you around Ireland on a trip of a lifetime.