Numerous stories, some miraculous, are told about Nicholas. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents called Epiphanius (Ἐπιφάνιος, Epiphánios) and Johanna (Ἰωάννα, Iōánna) according to some accounts and Theophanes (Θεοφάνης, Theophánēs) and Nonna (Νόννα, Nónna) according to others.
He was very religious from an early age and, according to legend, it was said that Nicholas had rigorously observed the canonical fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic, while Nicholas was still young and was raised by his uncle, also called Nicholas, who was the Bishop of Patara. He tonsured young Nicolás as a reader and later ordered him as a priest (priest).
In 305 AD, several Anatolian monks in Asia Minor came to the Holy Land to Beit Jala, Judea and established a small monastery with a church named in honor of the Great Martyr George (St. George). This was before the monastery of St. Sava was founded in the desert east of Bethlehem, in the Kidron Gorge, near the Dead Sea. These monks lived in the mountain that dominates Bethlehem in some caves. In the years 312-315, Saint Nicholas lived there and came as a pilgrim to visit the Holy Sepulcher, Golgotha, Bethlehem and many other places in the Holy Land. The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas is located on the site of his cave in Beit Jala, where today there are innumerable stories about Nicholas handed down from generation to generation. A text written in his own hand is still under the care of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem. In 317 he returned to Asia Minor and shortly afterwards was a consecrated bishop in Myra.
A story tells that during a terrible famine, a malicious butcher attracted three small children to his house, where he killed them, placing his remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them as ham. Nicholas, who visited the region to care for the hungry, not only saw the horrible crime of the butcher but also resurrected the three children in the barrel with his prayers. Another version of this story, possibly formed around the eleventh century, states that the butcher’s victims were three employees who wished to spend the night. The man murdered them, and his wife advised him to discard them by turning them into meat pies. The saint saw this and gave life back to men.
According to another story, during a great famine that Myra experienced in 311-312, a ship was in port at anchor, loaded with wheat for the emperor in Constantinople. Nicholas invited the sailors to unload a part of the wheat to help in the time of need. At first, the sailors did not like the request, because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and given to the emperor. Only when Nicholas promised them they would not suffer any loss for their consideration, the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in the capital, they made a surprising finding: the weight of the cargo had not changed, although the wheat extracted in Myra was enough for two full years and could even be used for planting.
When he was still a young man, Nicholas followed the example of his uncle, the abbot, making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Christianity: Holy Land. Wishing a time of serene preparation, Nicolás sailed on an Egyptian ship where the other pilgrims did not know who he was. The first night he dreamed that a storm would put them all in danger. When he awoke in the morning, he warned the sailors that a severe storm was coming, but they did not have to fear, because “God will protect us”.
Almost immediately, the sky darkened and strong winds roared around the ship. The wind and the waves made it impossible to keep the ship under control. Even with the sails low, the sailors feared for their lives and begged Nicholas to pray for his safety. A sailor climbed to the main mast, tightening the ropes so that the mast would not hit the deck. When he came back down, the sailor slipped, fell to the bridge and died. While Nicholas prayed, the storm subsided, relieving the sailors. However, his consolation was cushioned by the pain of his comrade’s death. While Nicholas prayed for the dead sailor, he was revived, “as if he had only been asleep.” The man woke up painlessly and the ship ended the trip to the Holy Land. Nicholas then embarked on his pilgrimage to the holy places, walking where Jesus had walked.
One night, while staying with a family in Jerusalem, he wanted to pray in the only church that remained in Jerusalem at that time. It was the Church of the Last Supper Room on Mount Zion. When he approached the heavy closed doors, they opened on their own, which allowed him to enter the church. Nicholas fell to the ground in thanksgiving.
In his most famous feat, Nicholas helped a poor man who had three daughters, but could not afford a suitable dowry for them. This meant that they would remain single and probably, in the absence of any other possible employment, they would have to become prostitutes. Even if they did not, the unmarried maidens in those days would have been assumed as prostitutes. Upon learning of the situation of the girls, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to spare them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under cover of night and threw three bags ( one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window that faces the house.
One version has him throwing a bag for three consecutive nights. Another makes him throw the bags over a period of three years, each the night before one of the daughters is of age. Invariably, the third time the father lurks, trying to discover the identity of his benefactor. In one version, the father confronts the saint, only for Nicholas to say that he should not thank him, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas discovers the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag through the fireplace; one variant holds that the daughter had washed her socks that night and hung them on the coals to dry, and that the gold bag fell on the stocking.
The stories with the most likely historical basis are the stories of Nicholas helping three girls and the stories of Nicholas coming to the aid of sailors. Others, especially that of the three murdered children, are additions much later than Nicolás’s knowledge, the historian Dr. Adam English concludes in a new biography of Nicholas for Baylor University Press based on a four-year study of current historical research on Nicholas of Myra.