Turkish archaeologists have discovered what may be the actual tomb of St. Nicholas, who became the basis for the popular Christmas character Santa Claus, under an ancient church in Turkey's southern Antalya province.
Digital surveys have uncovered an untouched shrine containing a grave site in St. Nicholas Church in Antalya's Demre district, where Santa Claus is believed to have been born.
"We have obtained very good results but the real work starts now," said Cemil Karabayram, the director of surveying and monuments in Antalya. "We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of Saint Nicholas," he added.
Karabayram noted that the shrine is difficult to reach because there are mosaics on the floor. He said that the workers at the site would need to scale each tile one by one and remove them as a whole in a mold.
The Guardian reported that it was once believed that the remains of St. Nicholas were transferred from Demre by sailors who smuggled them to the city of Bari in Italy, where the St. Nicholas Basilica is located. But Turkish archaeologists now believe that the stolen remains belonged to a local priest rather than the saint, whose body may still be within the temple complex.
Karabayram said that there is currently an ongoing search for researchers from eight different fields of study to carry out the remaining work at the site.
According to Daily Sabah, archaeologists at the site have already carried out the groundwork and will now conduct further work to reach below the ground.
Karabayram said he believes that tourism around the region will be affected positively if they are able to reach the saint's untouched remains.
The town of Demre is home to the Santa Claus Museum, which used to be an ancient church with a sarcophagus attributed to the Christmas saint.
St. Nicholas was a fourth-century bishop who was persecuted for his faith by the Roman Empire under Emperor Diocletian, but he lived to see Constantine come to power and legalize Christianity.
According to the St. Nicholas Center, he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., following his release, and died on Dec. 6, 343 A.D. in Myra.
The saint is known for his generosity, especially toward children, and he is venerated by all denominations in Christianity.
His generosity gave rise to the legend of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, which eventually morphed into Santa Claus and was popularized in the U.S. by Dutch immigrants.