Cemil Karabayram, the head of Antalya’s Monument Authority, explained that the shrine was discovered during electronic surveys, which showed gaps beneath the church and prompted further exploration. “We believe this shrine has not been damaged at all, but it is quite difficult to get to it as there are mosaics on the floor,” Karabayram told Hurriyet Daily News. The desire to preserve these mosaics makes it all the more difficult to access the tomb and archaeologists will have to carefully remove each tile individually in order to begin excavation.
A Christian bishop, Saint Nicholas was known for his gift-giving and generosity, especially towards the poor. During the 16th century, European tales of Saint Nicholas transformed him into Father Christmas, a saint who gave gifts to children. When the Dutch arrived in the United States, their pronunciation of Saint Nicholas as “Sinterklaas” later transformed into Santa Claus, as he is known by many today.
Saint Nicholas is said to have lived in the city of Myra, where Demre is currently located, making it possible that his remains are actually interred beneath this church. Some believe that St. Nicholas was laid to rest at St. Nicholas church, while others claim his remains were smuggled by Demre sailors to Venice or Bari, Italy during the Crusades.
Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy is most widely accepted as Saint Nicholas’ final resting place. Some Turkish experts, however, have claimed that documents obtained from Bari suggest the bones buried there were those of an anonymous priest, leaving Santa’s final resting location a mystery.
Until archaeologists are able to fully excavate the tomb, it’s unclear whether St. Nicholas’ remains are actually there. Claims that these 1,674-year-old remains may actually belong to the original Saint Nicholas would clash with other stories that place the saint’s location in completely different countries, such as Italy or even Ireland. Wherever he is, all evidence indicates Santa Claus is definitely not in the North Pole.