December 6th—The Feast of San Nicolò.

It sometimes seems that saints are revered in inverse proportion to their deeds. It is not clear that Saint Nicholas ever did much of note, other than slip coins into people’s shoes – and who hasn’t done that? Nonetheless he’s the patron Saint of Aberdeen, Russia, Freiberg, parish clerks, scholars, pawnbrokers, travellers, merchants, Venetian cloth trimmers (cimadori e soppradessadori), little boys, sailors and glass blowers. And of course he’s Santa Claus, the ur-Father Christmas. His emblems are three purses of gold, three gold balls or three small boys in a tub, and an anchor. Nicolò was undoubtedly a precocious, not to say precious, child: the first day of his life he stood up in his bath and praised God for his birth.

Although he doesn’t seem to have got about much in life, during the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) Myra was overtaken by the Islamic invaders, and sailors from Bari in Apulia seized his remains over the objections of the Orthodox monks, and took them home. There is a Venetian legend (preserved in the Morosini Chronicle) that most of the relics were actually taken to Venice (where a great church was built in his honour on the Lido), only an arm being left at Bari. This tradition was overturned in the 1950s when a scientific investigation of the relics in Bari revealed a largely intact skeleton.

San Nicolò da Tolentino is a different saint, but San Nicolò dei Mendicoli in Dorsoduro is his, and there was also a church dedicated to San Nicolò di Bari in Castello which was demolished in 1807 as part of the creation of the Giardini Pubblici.