Visiting Basilica of St. Nicholas (Bari, Italy)
(by Vera Bourenina)
In July 2001 God gave me the opportunity of a pilgrimage to Italy to venerate the relics of St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker, to pray for all and, of course, our church community, in front of the tomb with the holy relics of the saint.
Although this Basilica belongs to the Roman-Catholic church and is managed by the monks of the Dominican Order, priests of different Christian confessions are allowed to offer services in the crypt. Multi-denominational services are also common here.
You can experience a very special feeling when you have the opportunity to come into contact with this great spiritual treasure!
Despite the crowds of people speaking different languages, downstairs in the crypt there is reverential silence as Christians of different denominations and countries pray in common spiritual unity. Indeed, this Basilica can be described as an ecumenical center of Christianity.
History of the transfer of Saint Nicholas’ relics from Myra to Bari
In 1071 the city of Bari, an important trading port and capital of Byzantine Italy, was conquered by the Normans and lost its economical and political role. The people of Bari decided to go to Myra of Lycia in Asia Minor (presently a territory of the province of Antalya, Turkey) to retrieve the relicts of St. Nicholas. They hoped that the holy relicts of the most venerable saint in Byzantine would help to restore the authority and popularity of the city. In addition, St. Nicholas always was the patron of sailors and merchants.
Many Italian historical sources explain that the main reason for this act was to protect the relics from the Turks who were controlling this part of Asia Minor at that time. It’s also known that Venice and Bari were competing to be the first to own the relics of St. Nicholas.
In 1087, 62 sailors from Bari headed to Myra. Disguised as pilgrims, they hid their swords and knifes under their cloths, approached the tomb, opened it, and took out the relics which exuded myrrh. Despite the resistance of the monks who were guarding the tomb, the sailors were able to transfer the stolen relics to the ship.
In May 1087 the ship reached the shores of the city of Bari which initially planned to place the relics in the city’s cathedral, but later decided to build a special temple. Construction of the new temple started in June 1087. In 1089 the crypt of the basilica was built and the relics were placed in a new tomb where they lay at the present time.
Myrrh exuding relics of St. Nicholas
From ancient times Christians from Europe made pilgrimage to Bari to venerate the relics of St. Nicholas and obtain the wonderworking myrrh.
The myrrh continuously exudes from the bones of St. Nicholas and is collected once a year on May 9, the Feast Day of the Transfer of the Relics from Myra to Bari. Myrrh is collected from the tomb with the help of a pump, placed into a special vessel, and diluted with holy water.
Pilgrims from different parts of the globe distribute the myrrh among their relatives and friends to bring comfort and bodily and spiritual healing from St. Nicholas.
The myrrh (Italians call it “manna”) is available for pilgrims in the small church store in the basilica.
Although bottles with myrrh contain just a drop of pure myrrh, it can provide wondrous help. You can drink it or put it on the problem parts of your body – the wonders of the saint’s relics never end.