Santa Claus' last stop was southwest Turkey in the age of the Roman Empire. According to archaeologists in the region, the burial spot of St. Nicholas, the Christian saint whose generosity spawned the Father Christmas legend, has been found in the remains of a church in the town of Demre, which was known as Myra in ancient times. Researchers have long known the Antalya-born St. Nicholas was laid to rest in a local church, where he served as bishop and which became a pilgrimage site after his death in AD343, based on ancient records, which tell of medieval merchants breaking open the church floor and carrying away his bones, now spread around the world. But his tomb has been lost for centuries.
Below the Church of St. Nicholas, built two centuries after the saint's death, however, archaeologists discovered the remains of the ancient church, which had been buried in more than 20 feet of silt as a result of sea level rise, per DHA. "We are talking about the floor on which St. Nicholas' feet stepped," says Osman Eravsar, president of the Antalya Cultural Heritage Preservation Regional Board. "This is an extremely important discovery, the first find from that period." What's more, archaeologists discovered a broken and dislodged sarcophagus, a few bones, and the reported tomb, per Live Science. "The tomb was probably opened, his bones were removed, and the sarcophagus was placed in a niche on the side of the chapel," Eravsar says, per the Daily Sabah.
He notes that originally the sarcophagus "must have been placed in a special place, and that is the part with three apses covered with a dome," which features a fresco depicting Jesus "holding a Bible in his left hand and making the sign of blessing with his right hand," per Live Science. The spot is also etched with the Greek words meaning "as grace." While there's no proof this is where St. Nicholas was laid to rest, Eravsar says the idea is supported by the unfinished dome—a possible symbol of ascension to heaven—which resembles that of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the purported site of Jesus' tomb. He adds bones of the saint "or at least other iconographic pieces" may still be found, per the Sabah. (Read more St. Nicholas stories.)