St Nicholas of Myra, “Life” by Michael the Archimandrite (Vita per Michaelem) now online in English

We all know who Santa Claus is.  Some of us may even know that he is derived from St Nicholas of Myra, who threw three bags of gold through the windows of three poor girls, so that they could have a dowry and get married.  But none of the medieval literature about St Nicholas – who may be a Dark Ages invention anyway – has been translated into English.

I became aware of this a few months ago, and also that a translation of the earliest Life – by Michael the Archimandrite, the Vita per Michaelem – had been started by Prof John Quinn and was online at the St Nicholas Center website.  Unfortunately he only completed 11 chapters before his untimely death.

Thankfully Bryson Sewell has come to the rescue and has translated 12-52.  The St Nicholas Center have kindly agreed to allow Dr Quinn’s translation to be made Creative Commons-NoCommercial-NoDerivative4.0, thereby allowing the whole item to circulate.  They’ve completed Dr Quinn’s translation on their own site in a rather splendid way; and I am uploading my version of the thing here.  The text is the same, but this version has less pictures and more footnotes, and also my introduction.

Here are the files:

I’ve also placed these files at here.

Bryson’s portion of the work, and my introduction, are public domain.  But you can circulate these files are you like for non-commercial usage.


8 thoughts on “St Nicholas of Myra, “Life” by Michael the Archimandrite (Vita per Michaelem) now online in English

  1. Splendid! Hearty thanks variously to you and Bryson Sewell and the St. Nicholas Center for seeing that Dr. Quinn’s undertaking is completed, annotated, and made so readily available! What a lacuna, how well supplied at last!

  2. A. Blom’s study entitled Nikolaas van Myra en zijn tijd (Hilversum: Verloren, 1998) includes a translation of a contemporary account of the bringing of the greater part of St. Nicholas’s relics from Lycia to Bari. (Not to set you more philanthropic work, but, do you happen to know if this very interesting account is available in English translation?)

    Sévérien Salaville’s 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia article “Myra” as transcribed at New Advent includes, “As to St. Nicholas Thaumaturgus, venerated on 6 December, the is [sic] ‘Index’ of Theodorus Lector (sixth century) is the first document which inscribes his name among the fathers of Nicaea in 325 (Gelzer, “Patrum Nicaenorum nomina”, 67, n. 161).” And among English “Sources” it lists, “FELLOWS, Discoveries in Lycia, I (London, 1857), 169; SPRATT AND FORBES, Travels in Lycia, I, (London, 1847), 131”.

    Now, Internet Archive lists three available “texts” of Heinrich Gelzer’s Patrum Nicaenorum nomina, and various scans of both Fellows and Spratt & Forbes.

    Of these, I have only followed up Spratt & Forbes, so far, and was interested to find there reported (I, 131-32) that “the small low church” was “until a few years since, the shrine of the relics of St. Nicholas”: “We were informed by the priest, that this precious treasure was taken to St. Petersburg by a Russian frigate, during the Greek revolution. The Emperor sent a gaudy picture as a substitute, and it is now an object of great adoration to the sailors and pilgrims who visit it.”

    These were presumably (all? or some? of) the relics left there when the greater part were taken to Bari. I wonder what has become of them (including, how they fared during the Russian Revolution and Soviet period).

  3. I don’t know about the translation of the relics, although I do have a copy of Blom. But I’m not sure that I feel the urge to commission a translation of that text. It is quite hard to work with Greek that late – my translators are mostly ancient Greek specialists, you see.

    Isn’t it useful that these old books are now accessible? In 2000, they would all have been trapped in rare books rooms.

  4. I find that an English translation of the narrative of the translation of the relics already exists – I did a search in COPAC, searching on Cioffari and Myra, and got this:

    “The translation of Saint Nicholas : an anonymous Greek account of the transfer of the body of the St. Nicholas from Myra in Lycia to Bari in Italy / translated by J. Mc Ginley and H. Musurillo.”
    Series: Bollettino di S. Nicola. Studi et testi ; 29, n. 10
    Bollettino di S. Nicola.. Studi et testi ; 29, n. 10
    Other titles: Logos eis tēn anakomidēn tou leipsanou tou Hosiou Patros ēmōn kai Thaumatourgou Nikoalou.
    Narration of the recovery of the relics of our Holy Father and Wonder-Worker Nicholas.
    Published: Bari : Gerardo Cioffari 1980
    Physical description: 17 p., 1 p. of plates : ill., facsim. ; 24 cm.NotesIntroduction by publisher Gerardo Cioffari.
    “Beginning of the original Greek text[:] Logos eis tēn anakomidēn tou leipsanou tou hosiou patros ēmōn kai thaumatourgou Nikolaou [=] Narration of the recovery of the relics of our holy Father and Wonder-Worker Nicholas”–Cover verso.
    “The text I am publishing here was printed as Appendix B in the book of Eugene R. Whitmore, St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (Saint Nicholas of Bari). The genesis of Santa Claus, 1944, pp. 28-36.”–Publisher’s introduction, p. 3.
    Subject: Nicholas Saint, Bp. of Myra — Relics.

  5. A French author, E. Marin, in his book “Saint Nicolas, évêque de Myre (vers 270-341)”, mentions a syriac Life of St. Nicholas (or Mor Zokhe, as he is known in syriac tradition) which contains almost all of the stories included in the greek Life by Michael the Archimandrite. According to Marin, the syriac Life is dated to 8th century CE at the latest and therefore certainly antedates Michael’s Life. Moreover, the syriac Life must be a translation of a now lost greek original; Marin conjectures that this lost greek source might have been the “βίος” of St. Nicholas mentioned by Eustratius of Constantinople in his tract “On the State of Souls after Death” (composed around 583-602).
    The syriac Life of St. Nicholas was published by P. Bedjan and M. Nau in the 4th volume of Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum and is available here: Unfortunately, there is no translation of the text.

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