Introduction to the St. Nicholas Pilgrimage

People at St. Paul’s have a long and involved history with the Rev. Peter Sills and his wife Helen. Twice the St. Paul’s choir has been the choir in residence at the cathedral in Ely, England, where Peter served. Twice Peter has been to St. Paul’s to lecture. In fact, he was the first speaker in the Kerley Endowment series.

In addition, some of us have travelled with Peter on the pilgrimages he organizes. We have been with him on two parts of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. Some of us have shared other trips with them - Costa Rica and, more recently, Scotland. Peter is an outstanding pilgrimage leader.

When we were recently in Scotland we heard of a pilgrimage he is leading - The St. Nicholas Pilgrimage. You can learn a lot about it by putting this search term into a Google search - St Nicholas Centre Bari.

The six persons from St. Paul’s who will be going are Sherry Beeman, Bill Kerley, Bob Rainwater, Merlene McAlevy, Pam Rowe and Sharon Rowe. (Actually Sharon is from Minnesota but we’re claiming her to be from St. Paul’s.)

The six of us will start this journey by spending four days in Rome and then going on to Lecce where the pilgrimage formally begins.

Nicholas was Bishop of Myra, in south western Turkey, and although he was one of the most venerated saints his life is virtually unknown. There are numerous stories told about him. One of these stories leads to his morphing into, in the Western world, becoming “Santa Claus” or, “Jolly Saint Nicholas.”

In 1087 his relics were moved - the religious word here is “translated” - to Bari and a basilica built to house them.

The shrine of St. Nicholas in Bari has been a pilgrimage destination ever since the translation of his relics. In the late Middle Ages, journeys to the shrine of the local saint were the most popular type of pilgrimage. The pilgrimage that people are the most familiar with is the one known as “The Santiago de Compostela” made popular by the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen.


Venice also wanted the relics of St. Nicholas and recent DNA evidence shows that the relics in Bari and Venice are both from the same source.

In the beginning people made pilgrimages for a variety of reasons - an act of devotion, to fulfill a vow, seeking forgiveness or healing. A saint’s Feast Day, (usually the anniversary of his or her death) would be an occasion of great celebration which is still the case in Bari today.

There is a difference between being a tourist and being a pilgrim and we’ll talk about these along the way.

Making pilgrimage has been a part of every religion from the religion’s beginning. Making a pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the Four Pillars of Islam. The Jews made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the time of Passover. Some believe that Christians appropriated the ancient labyrinth to be used by people who were physically or otherwise unable to make an actual pilgrimage. You’ll find an exact replica of the labyrinth that is in Chartres Cathedral in France on the St. Paul’s campus.

As I’ve indicated the six of us from the St. Paul’s community are going to start this pilgrimage by spending four days in Rome.

This will be the fourth blog I’ve written about a pilgrimage we have been on with Peter. I’m writing this installment from Houston - and hope to do another before we leave. When actually in Italy the blog has to be created in parts - text and photographs - and assembled on arrival. I am so grateful to Wayne Herbert for being willing to do this and thank him publicly.