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Apse of St. Nicholas Church in Demre. Picture: Alexaner van Loon/Flickr

Santa Claus enjoys the cooking of Mrs. Claus in Rovaniemi, Lapland while counting the days till Christmas Eve, but his predecessor’s bones may have been found under an ancient church in Turkey’s southern Antalya province. Under a floor of mosaic, an undamaged shrine is believed to contain Saint Nicholas’ 1,674-year-old remains. “The temple on the ground of the church is in good condition. We believe that it has received no damage so far. But it is hard to enter it because there are stones with motifs on the ground. These stones should be scaled one by one and then removed,” said Cemil Karabayram, who is the Antalya director of surveying and monuments, to Hurriyet Daily News. In the excavation process, archaeologists will have to loosen the tiles from the mosaics and remove them together in a mold.

The church, known as the St. Nicholas Church, is located in Demre district, the birthplace of the saint who became known as the Santa Claus because of his generosity, especially toward children. To be specific, the history tells us that when Nicholas’s parents died, they left him with plenty of money and made him a wealthy man. He wanted to help the poor in secrecy, so the agile bishop used to climb on the roofs of people’s houses and drop coins down the chimney. One day, a citizen caught him in the act and his good nature was revealed to the town.

The original entrance to St. Nicholas Church in Demre. Picture: Alexander van Loon/Flickr

In Demre,  researchers from eight different fields came across the untouched shrine while conducting digital surveys below the surface of the church. The find can lead to rewriting history because, according to Karabayarm, after examining documents from 1942 to 1996 it became clear that the church has been burnt down and reconstructed and during the reconstruction, some bones, indeed, were found. “Traders in Bari (Italy) took the bones,” Karabayarm said.

These bones were believed to be the bones of Saint Nicholas, because, at the time of his death in 343 A.D., Nicholas was buried at the church in Demre (formerly Myra), where he lay undisturbed until the 11th century when the traders snatched the relics. The bones were believed to be taken to southern Italy in Bari and placed in a tomb in Basilica di San Nicola, a popular church and pilgrimage destination among Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

But according to Professor Yıldız Ötüken, who headed the archaeological excavations project in Demre for 20 years, they took the wrong bones that belonged to another priest. According to Ötyken, Saint Nicholas was kept in a special section under the church in Demre.

And now, this special section may have been found.