We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Medieval Enthusiasts Instagram
Culture Magazine

Sink your Claus into the story of Saint Nicholas and his burial site in Kilkenny

The fascinating history of the figure who inspired Santa Claus and his final resting place in an Irish medieval burial grounds

HO HO HOW did the remains of Saint Nicholas find their final resting place in Ireland’s rural countryside?

The story of the man who inspired Santa Claus, the jolly figure who leaves children presents to enjoy on Christmas Day, goes back to the third century and involves impish Italian sailors, a Norman invasion and relocation to Co Kilkenny in the 1200s.

Screen Shot 2022-12-13 at 23.15.59 HikeBostonSportsSleepRepeat Instagram HikeBostonSportsSleepRepeat Instagram

Of all the symbols associated with Christmas, the man in the red suit trimmed with white fur whose preferred mode of transport is a reindeer-led sleigh is the most synonymous. Depending on where you are in the world, he’s known as Father Christmas, Père Noël, Sinterklaas, and Santa Claus. 

Regardless of the many iterations of his name, the remains of the man who inspired the festive figure reside in a tomb situated in a medieval burial site in Co Kilkenny. Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop, lived during the third and fourth centuries and continues to be known for his generosity – including secret gift-giving – which often helped many people out of destitution. 

Screen Shot 2022-12-13 at 23.08.07 Medieval Enthusiasts Instagram Medieval Enthusiasts Instagram

Born to Greek parents in approximately 270 A.D., Nicholas became a bishop in Myra (now part of Turkey, as we know it today) which was part of the Roman Empire. He was headstrong and assertive in his position against the Great Persecution (a time in which priests were forced to reject Christianity) which ultimately resulted in Nicholas spending time in prison. 

St Nicholas died on December 6, 343. This date subsequently became the Feast of St Nicholas. Tales of his secret gift-giving spread after his death and became an integral part of his legacy. Along with providing the basis for the beloved Christmas character, Nicholas is also the patron saint of sailors, unmarried people, students, brewers, and children. His famed present-giving and patronage to children eventually progressed into the magical character of Santa Claus as we know him. 

Screen Shot 2022-12-13 at 23.18.06 Haleys Holidays Instagram Haleys Holidays Instagram

But how did the remnants of Saint Nicholas, who devoted much of his life to helping the people in Turkey, find their way to Ireland? An invasion of St Nicholas’ original burial site in Myra resulted in the stealing of some of his relics which were distributed to different parts of Italy, notably Bari and Venice, by Italian merchants. Today, the extent of the dispersal of his remains is thought to be spread as far as Russia, the United States and various churches across Europe with some places in possession of anything from a tooth or finger of the former Christian Bishop. 

Thomastown’s link to this incredible tale is a result of the involvement of a French family called the de Frainets who owned land in Kilkenny and relocated there when the Normans lost power in France in the 1200s. With them, they brought all the relics they acquired from the crusades to Ireland, including St Nicholas’ remains.

Screen Shot 2022-12-13 at 23.20.48 Amy Trafalgar Brendan Instagram Amy Trafalgar Brendan Instagram

The exact spot, Newtown Jerpoint is a small medieval town in Co Kilkenny close by to the more preserved Jerpoint Abbey dates back to the 12th Century. In the modest-sized graveyard on the grounds of St Nicholas Church is a striking slab known as the Tomb of St Nicholas. 

The stone slab features an intricate carving complete with two floating heads at the shoulders of the figure of Saint Nicholas. Those heads are thought to depict knights involved in the crusades, which transported the remains to Kilkenny. The slab is split at its centre point by a laceration incurred from a fallen tree.

Screen Shot 2022-12-13 at 23.33.20 Abarta Heritage Instagram Abarta Heritage Instagram

Today, studies continue to decipher the authenticity of St Nicholas’ remains across the various sites around Europe. It is thought that, in Thomastown, the body of a local priest is contained within the tomb at Newtown Jerpoint and not of the generous Bishop who lived between the third and fourth centuries.

Whether or not it is the remains of St Nicholas, there’s something magical about being able to Santa Claus in Kilkenny whenever you want. 

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel