Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Professor Nevzat Çevik, who leads archeological research in Demre, said St. Nicholas is a well-known Christian saint and that he has become very popular in Europe, adding that many churches have been built in Europe in his honor.
“The saint was born and spent his life in Anatolia,” Çevik said. Historical sources say St. Nicholas were born in Patara, a previous name of Antalya, and died in 343 in Demre. The saint’s bones were stolen by Italian craftsmen in 1087 and brought to Bari, where they were interred in a church dedicated to him.
Çevik reiterated St. Nicholas’s remarks in which he said, “I was born here, raised here and I will be buried here.” The professor added that “we should respect the wish of St. Nicholas. The bones should be brought back to his grave in Demre.”
Çevik has also urged state authorities to take steps to contact their Italian counterparts. “The ministries should work to move the bones back to Turkey.” The scholar also emphasized the significance of St. Nicholas’s grave in terms of tourism and said that the number of tourists visiting the church in Demre will drastically increase when the bones are returned.
Antalya Museum Director Cumali Ayabakan told Anatolia that Christians visiting the church in Demre have complained about the absence of Santa Claus’s bones and said an empty grave means nothing to them. “If the bones can be brought to Turkey, they will be returned to the original grave,” he added.