We have reached Bari where the Feast of St. Nicholas begins tomorrow and goes on for three days. We will be here for seven days participating in the festivities and making several day trips out of Bari to explore other shrines and sites.
I thought I was fairly well acquainted with St. Nicholas. I had no idea. Comparatively speaking, none whatsoever!
St. Nicholas icons, statues, frescoes and churches of all sorts dedicated to his name are all over Italy. Especially Southern Italy and the places we have been visiting for the past week.
The tradition of Santa Claus was begun by French nuns who wanted to emulate the charitable behavior of St. Nicholas. Many stories exist extolling his good works. Perhaps they are legends or myths. However, such stories don't develop from nothing.
Just to complete part of this portrait: the Santa Claus we know in the red suit trimmed with white fur is an advertising by Coke Cola created in the 1930s.
I was glad to reach Bari not only because this is the site where St. Nicholas found his final resting place, at least his bones did, early in the 11th century and, so, this would be our destination; but also because we would be here for seven nights. Long enough not to be living out of a suitcase!
After a meal, compline, and a good night's sleep, we had breakfast and were met by our guide. She is one we had in Ostuni several days ago. We were glad to have her for today as she is extremely knowledgeable and engaging. Bari is where she was born and lives. She has a great love for this place.
We walked to the Cathedral of San Sabino. In this place our guide pointed to some frescoes saying, "They are not very old. Are are only from the 12th century." She takes us down into the crypt which she informs us is old. It was built on the remains of a sixth century church.
Many of the places we have been have well preserved archeological sites under the cathedrals.
After this we go to the Basilica of St. Nicholas. This is where the relics are kept. Scholars say there is little doubt that the relics here are the actual bones of St. Nicholas. They were quickly taken in a raid on the town of Myra in what is now Turkey. Those who took the bones did not get them all. The rest now reside in a church in Venice. (There is stiff competition between the two cities.) Not long ago the resting places both in Bari and Vince underwent renovation and scientists had an opportunity to take DNA samples from both sites. The bones are from the same person.
I must say that the site was impressive. One of the first things that caught my eye were two little boys kneeling in prayer before the altar. Another was of an Orthodox priest who kept quietly intoning prayers at one end of the altar space. Later I saw that the prayer book from which he was reading was on his device.
While we were in the crypt, Peter led us in a brief service as this was our destination. However, he was quick to point out that having arrived, we had just begun. Peter had written a Canticle of Praise, Helen wrote the music for it, that we sang together there. The first verse is:
"O Nicholas, man greatly beloved;
We rejoice with you in the presence of God."
After this, with many opportunities over the next few days to return here, four of us - Sherry, Pam, Sharon and I - went to lunch at a nearby restaurant. I had there perhaps the best pasta with "bacon" dish I have ever tasted!
I have longed several times on this pilgrimage to be able to have a conversation with a theologian or spiritual teacher with my same orientation but who was born here and has lived with the ethos of this culture for her or his entire life. How would this person understand spiritual, relational and psychological growth? My hunch is that this culture is something that facilitates growth in both non-dual mind and in mysticism.
More about this in the next post.