Turkish group demands that Italy return St. Nicholas' bones
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- The Santa Claus Foundation, based in mainly Muslim Turkey, wants Italy to return the bones of St. Nicholas -- the 4th century bishop in the Greek city now called Demre on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. Muammer Karabulut, the group's chairman, told The Associated Press that the remains of St. Nicholas, from whom the Santa Claus myth emerged, were stolen from what is now Turkey by pirates in the 11th century and taken to Italy.
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"We want them returned in 2003," he said in a telephone interview. "We're starting a campaign this year for them to be given back."
St. Nicholas was born in what is now Demre, about 70 miles southwest of Antalya, served as bishop in the coastal city and was buried there before the remains were taken to the southern Italian town of Bari.
"He belongs in Turkey," Karabulut said.
Hundreds of Greek and Russian Orthodox faithful commemorate St. Nicholas' death every Dec. 6 at a church in Demre built in his honor.
But the church in Bari dismissed any Turkish claims to the bones.
"They ask for the remains only to keep tourism alive. They don't venerate St. Nicholas," said the Rev. Gerardo Cioffari, historian at the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari.
According to Cioffari, the remains of the saint's body were brought to Bari in 1087, and have been stored there in the St. Nicholas Basilica, secured in blocks of reinforced concrete.
Cioffari said the bones could never be given back.
"If the remains were moved there would be a revolution here," Cioffari said. "Even the Vatican couldn't do anything about it."
JAMES C. HELICKE, Associated Press Writer Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Sorry, kids: Santa Claus died centuries ago, and his bones were stolen by pirates.
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