As Cemil and the team extracted more and more of the mosaic tiles, excitement began to build. It was clearer now what they stumbled across. Most archaeologists searched for a lifetime and never found anything like this.
The tomb was well preserved and fully intact. They could not believe their eyes. There were so many stories and legends about him, and now here he was, right in front of them.
There are few fields out there as glamorized by mystery and legend as much as archaeology is. With pop culture and Hollywood only fuelling the intrigue with famous characters such as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, people sometimes tend to forget that it’s an actual profession.
The reality of the job usually encompasses more late nights, dirty clothes, and frustration than the movies portray. However, real-life archaeologists do really often come across the kind of finds that legends are made of.
Antalya, a Province in Turkey is known as the center of the country’s tourism sector. Its main city, also named Antalya, is Turkey’s fifth most populous city and has a rich cultural history.
Heading up the Antalya Governorate’s Cultural Assets department is a man named Cemil Karabayram. While his position has provided him the opportunity to work with many interesting objects and sites, one in particular stands out.
In the region of Demre, Antalya, stands a famous church that has survived for centuries and was built amid the ruins of the ancient city of Myra. Over years, the church has been turned into a museum.
Due to its history as an ancient East Roman Basilica, archaeologists have surveyed its boundaries before. However, when scientific teams conducted fresh surveys of the site, they were astonished to find something new.
Technology continues to improve and open up new avenues of discovery in many fields. The same is true of archaeology. Using modern radar technology, archaeologists discovered an ancient temple beneath the church in Demre.
More enthralling was the fact that the temple complex appeared to be almost fully intact. However, this exciting discovery did present other challenges.
Since the temple was underground, reaching the actual site meant a complex excavation was required.
This in itself wasn’t impossible but what made it more challenging was the presence of certain barriers. The team realized that it wasn’t going to be easy to get down there.
The church dated back to the sixth century. It was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Justinian, who is also renowned for his legislative codices that became the basis of many legal systems the world over.
With so much history and delicate structures to work around, the biggest challenge for the excavation would be getting there, without damaging anything else in the process.
Like most historical sites and ancient churches, not only is the history of these places worth preserving, but the stunning sights they hold to.
The kind of beautiful, intricate architecture that the church holds is certainly worth preserving. Massive, high ceilings, ornate walls and pillars, and a stunning, cavernous interior make the church breathtakingly beautiful, but that’s not all.
Throughout the church’s walls are beautiful fresco paintings. Ancient artwork comes in many forms but not manyare capable of elciting such awe as the paintings found in ancient churches like these.
The aesthetical beauty of these murals aside, they also hold rich historical and cultural significance. The reason is that they depict the lifecycle of the famous figure after whom the church was named.
As far as historical sites go, Antalya and Turkey in general are renowned for theirs. In fact, the site is so renowned, its significance and place in historical culture is underpinned by the fact that it is being considered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Adding to this pressure to keep it undamaged, the temple that archaeologists were trying to get to also sat below a host of beautiful ancient mosaics and tiles.
After much hard work, deep respect for its significance, and dedication Cemil and his team were able to reach the temple site. They were amazed by what lay there.
A beautifully preserved and intact tomb was discovered. After inspections and research was conducted, the team was astonished by the prospect of whose tomb this was.
It was becoming clear that this was likely the real tomb of the famous fourth century Bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra who was famous for his generosity. The ancient church itself was actually called the Church of St. Nicholas.
The reason why this find was also so significant was that St. Nicholas was also renowned for his gift-giving and kindness, towards children in particular. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because you may know him by the mythical character he inspired—Santa Claus.
Yup, that’s right, for those who may not be familiar with the legend, Santa Claus himself was really based on an actual person and historical figure.
While much of the world might rejoice at this last part of St. Nicholas’s legend, for archaeologists, the find is also illuminating for other reasons.
Santa legends aside, St. Nicholas, the man, is an important figure to Eastern Orthodox Christians. It was previously believed that his body had been desecrated and moved to Bari, Italy, centuries ago.
The discovery of this new tomb therefore completely changes the known historical facts (of which little was previously known) about the death of St. Nicholas.
While work is ongoing on unlocking as many facts and secrets of the tomb as possible, none of it detracts from the fact that St. Nicholas was a great and wonderful person, someone truly deserving of his sainthood.
As for Santa Claus, regardless of the actual history behind the legends, it’s safe to assume that everyone’s favorite, jolly gift-giver remains alive and well in the hearts and minds of children around the world.