The city of Myra in Asia Minor: St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place? Part 2 (Pic of the Day 2017-12-25)

This is a brief intermediate follow-up to “Part 1 of St. Nick’s Not-So-Final-Resting-Place,” before we get to the conclusion in Part 3 (that will make it a trilogy!). Here I will focus on the city where St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) was bishop and what can be seen there.

Ancient Myra was a typical Greco-Roman city of some regional importance. About 5 km away lie the ruins of Myra’s Mediterranean harbor town, Andriake. An ancient synagogue, identified by a menorah decoration and inscription, is of special interest.

Adriake: Synagogue
The synagogue at Andriake, the port for Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Adriake: Synagogue
Menorah relief decoration (reproduction, I assume; original in the adjacent museum, not yet open at the time of the photo in 2015) in the Andriake synagogue (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The site of Andriake, recently opened to the public, also includes fine harbor buildings, restored monuments, a huge cistern, and ancient boat replicas. Given his reputation among sailors, Nicholas no doubt was familiar with Andriake.

Myra is located in Lycia, where the most visually unique ancient remains are tombs, with several types carved in the ubiquitous rock cliffs of the region. Not far from the Church of Nicholas, a nice array of such tombs can be seen above the ancient theater of the city.

Myra: western tombs
Myra: western tombs above the theater (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The theater with its backdrop of tombs is a major stop for the buses full of cruise-ship borne tourists:

Myra: Theater
Myra: Theater (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The Russian tourists I mentioned in Part 1, free from the religious atmosphere of the Church St. Nicholas, now typically indulge in over-the-top photo ops at the theater (NOTE: I did not obtain permission from any of these people to take/use their images, but given the very public nature of their exhibitionism, I assume I am okay—however, I have not included the more embarrassing or salacious pics I got that day in 2011):

Myra: western tombs
Stylish gesturing for the camera at the western tombs of Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Myra: Theater
Seductive picture taking in the theater of ancient Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Myra: Theater
Sexy picture taking in the theater of ancient Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Myra: Theater
Shock by the ruins themselves (I feel the same way . . .  photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

For the visitor that does not like crowds or the “You Don’t Get This On the Bus Tour” folks, I suggest a visit to the other side of the hill, where only working agricultural fields lie below the Northern Tombs of Myra:

Myra: Northern tombs
The Northern Tombs of ancient Myra, isolated from the crowds (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Meanwhile, back at the Church of St. Nicholas, we have not answered the questions posed in Part 1.1 We will address these and the question of Nicholas’ appearance in Part 3 (perhaps later today?) . . .

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1 I.e.: Who has the real St. Nicholas? Bari or Venice? Or, could his remains remain in Myra (Demre)?

St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place? Part 1 (Pic of the Day 2017-12-24)

As I write this, it is Christmas Eve, and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is already performing its annual national defense duty: (that of tracking Santa on his rounds). It occurred to me that we can attempt to track Santa’s movements in antiquity—or at least those of his remains . . . .

As is well known (and which will not be detailed here), Santa Claus is a derivative from Saint Nicholas, a quite real early Christian bishop from the city of Myra in southern Asia Minor (now the city Demre, Turkey). After a ministry that spanned the Peace of the Church, defending children, caring for the people in Myra during famine, protecting sailors, saving the falsely accused, and a purported action role at the Council of Nicea in 325, Nicholas died on December 6 (now his feast day), AD 343.1  He was buried in Myra where a church was built over his tomb after his remains were said to produce a healing liquid called manna. The church itself is difficult to appreciate as it is somewhat lower than the present ground level of that part of Demre, and the entrance is covered with scaffolding as part of a long-ongoing excavation and restoration project.

Myra: Church of St Nicolaus
Myra: Church of St Nicholas in 2011 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

There are several graves in the church, but one is specially remembered as the tomb of Nicholas and greatly revered by Eastern Orthodox, especially Russians. This post and site cannot get a “You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour” tag because when a cruise ship packed with Russian vacationers arrives, every bus hauls them to Demre, where they invade the church in varying states of inappropriate dress. Such was the case on my first attempt to inspect the tomb in 2011. Any hope of a decent pic of the grave was lost and even approaching it nearly futile. A modest glass barrier could not protect the top of the sarcophagus from the hands of the faithful:

Myra: Church of St Nicolaus
Tomb of St. Nicholas in 2011; note that the woman has reached between the glass and niche wall to caress the sarcophagus lid, as did almost everyone I saw (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

On a subsequent visit in 2014, there was no cruise ship and thus no hordes of Russians having a pious moment amidst their hedonistic vacation. So, I could get a decent pic, I thought. But I noticed with amusement that the modest protective glass was replaced by a significantly stouter defensive shield:

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Tomb of St. Nicholas in 2014 with more protective glass (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
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Myra: Church of St Nicholas, Tomb from the opposite angle (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

So, why is the sarcophagus clearly broken? And why is the title of this blog post: “St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place?” And what does this have to do with tracking Santa’s (remains) movements?

As it happens, St. Nicholas’ remains are revered in churches named for him in Bari and Venice, both in Italy, and in several other places around Christendom. How did this come to be? The short version is that after Myra fell to the Seljuk Turks in 1071, the maritime powers Bari and Venice each conspired to relocate the valuable relics of the Saint to their cities. Ships from Bari arrived first in 1087 and, quite against the will of the people and church at Myra, “translated” the bones of Nicholas to their city where they are venerated in a basilica to this day. In 1099, en route to Palestine on the First Crusade, ships from Venice stopped in Myra as well. They broke through the floor of the church and found an urn labelled to contain Nicholas’ remains. They took these and others with them and back to Venice in 1101, where they are revered in a basilica to this day.2

So, who has the real St. Nicholas? Bari or Venice? Or, could his remains remain in Myra? Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 . . .

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1 For interesting and informative info on Nicholas, his history, and transformation into Santa Claus, see the St. Nicholas Center.

2 The most accessible sources are found at the St. Nicholas Center.

Pic of the Day 2017-12-14: Books are a Good Thing

This post and Pic of the Day is inspired by an article that I shared on Facebook earlier today. The article claims (and I am not going to argue with the premise) that a large personal library with an increasing number of unread books is a good thing. This made me feel better, as I am in the midst of organizing and integrating the ungodly quantity of books from my former office—too long in storage—into my home office (and the rest of the house by necessity).* Meanwhile that process had made me somewhat melancholy over the fading use of repositories of physical books in our increasingly digital society. With sadness I noted that I have even had difficulty giving away books to younger folks who assume that all knowledge is a click away.

With that thought, and keeping with the theme of my blog, I offer a couple of pics of lost libraries from the past. Of course, the supreme example of a lost storehouse of knowledge is the great ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt.1 Sadly, its exact location is lost, and more sadly, I have not been to Alexandria. So, and more appropriately, I present some lesser-known and more-forgotten ancient libraries.

The most-photographed of ancient libraries is no doubt the Library of Celsus at Ephesus (built about AD 135),2 as it is the most striking (and reconstructed) building in Turkey’s most popular archaeological site:

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Library of Celsus at Ephesus (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The crowds are too big at Ephesus, so I prefer the quiet surroundings of the rarely-visited library at Nysa, a lovely Roman city in the Meander Valley of Asia Minor (modern Turkey):

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Ruins of the Library at Nysa (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

A huge number of visitors walk by the remains of the library at Pergamum, also in Turkey. But they do so without notice of the nondescript remains and without realizing they are adjacent to the second greatest repository of knowledge in the ancient world:3

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The main reading hall at the library of Pergamum (there are three other rooms), with the remains of the Temple of Athena (goddess of wisdom) in the background (below the dark tower) (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

While the remains of the library at Pergamum are not so inspiring in themselves, the spirit of learning makes the site worth noting. Also . . . the view from just outside and around corner is better than any of the other libraries:

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Theater at Pergamum; the library is off screen to the left of the (same as in the previous pic) tower (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

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*Today’s Footnotes are all from physical books in my own library

1 See Roy MacLeod, ed., The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World (London: Taurus, 2004); and Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World (Berkely: Univ of California Press, 1989).

2 On this edifice, see Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (New Haven: Yale, 2001), 114-18.

3 Casson, 49-52; Canfora, 45-50.

Pic of the Day 2017-12-12: The Light of Freedom

Tonight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, so it seemed appropriate to dedicate a Pic of Day post to some Menorot (singular, Menorah) I have photographed in situ at ancient sites or in museums. I’ll include a few bulleted notes among the photos—some general info, and a couple of random observations I have made over the years.

  • The Menorah is closely associated with Hanukkah because of the miraculous burning for 8 days of a single day’s supply of consecrated oil (presumably in the Temple Menorah) at the Temple’s re-dedication.
Jerusalem; Israel Museum
Portions of a Menorah depicted in plaster from a Jerusalem house destroyed in AD 70 (now in the Israel Museum) and one of the oldest depictions known (photo: Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah is the major feast holiday of the Jews that is not specified in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. It is, therefore, less familiar and less understood to Christians.
Capernaum: Synagogue
Menorah and other Temple service items in relief on a capital from the 4th century AD synagogue (the “White Synagogue” at Capernaum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah means “dedication,” which is how the holiday is known in the New Testament (John 10:22). The holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration at the hands of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV and his suppression of Judaism—acts which sparked the Maccabean Revolt and resulting in the liberation and re-dedication for which the holiday is named.
Ostia: Synagogue
Menorah motif in the synagogue remains at Ostia, the port of Rome (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Even as a child, I noticed that every Christmas season, there was a seemingly-obligatory news story about Hanukkah, explaining that it celebrates the miracle of the 8-day burning oil. This provides the Menorah connection (and the alternate name Festival of Lights), but glosses over the real importance of the holiday—a celebration of deliverance from oppression and restoration of free worship. Making Hanukkah about burning oil is akin to making Christmas about giving gifts.
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Laura Scovel looks at a Menorah carving in the synagogue ruins at Priene in Asia Minor/Turkey (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • The Menorah appropriately became the symbol of Jewish identity as a minority people in the Roman world—perhaps all the more because of the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70.
Boğazköy Museum
A Menorah on a Jewish tombstone from north central Turkey, now in the Boğazköy Museum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Beth Shearim:
Large Menorah in the 2nd-3rd century AD “Cave of the Coffins,” a Jewish underground cemetery at Beth Shearim, Israel (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The Menorah represents many things;* among them is the light of freedom. May it illuminate our own times.

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*For further reading, try Steven Fine’s new-ish book, The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Harvard University Press, 2016).

Pic of the Day 2017-12-10 (and 2015-07-11): “Lord Help”

Ruins of the ancient city of Knidos (also Cnidus) lie at the end of a long peninsula jutting into the Aegean Sea from SW Turkey. In antiquity one came there mostly by sea, as did the Apostle Paul (Acts 27:7) while a prisoner en route to Rome.

Cnidus-Knidos: Apollo and Round Temple
Knidos: View west over the Apollo and Round Temple terraces (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

Exploring the site on a very hot July day in 2015, I literally stumbled across an inscribed marble block that caught my eye. The words ΚΥΡΙΕ ΒΟΗΘΕΙ (“Lord Help”) framed by crosses appear above the central feature: a carved labyrinth about 21 cm across. A larger cross just right of the labyrinth with an alpha and omega beneath its arms makes it clear this was an early Christian inscription. Other decorations include two palm trees and a bush(?) as well as a grapevine emerging from some kind of vessel.1

The Knidos Labyrinth (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

Labyrinths have a long history of religious application, including Christian use.2 The Knidos Labyrinth is certainly one of the earliest known Christian examples. My image is not the greatest Pic of the Day example—it is hard to make out details and it is marred by two large drops of sweat I got on the stone before realizing I needed to photograph it. Nevertheless, I was inspired to post this because earlier tonight University Baptist Church (Hattiesburg, MS) announced the completion of a new Labyrinth at its monthly Celtic Worship Service. It is outside and integrated into the architecture and landscape of the campus. Again, not great pics, but the best I could do on the fly with low-light and my cellphone:

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The new labyrinth at UBC, Hattiesburg.
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The new labyrinth at UBC, Hattiesburg.

The Labyrinth and Celtic Worship service are perhaps a bit odd-sounding to most evangelical protestant Christians (including this one at first). Rather than attempt some full explanation in this short blog, I will merely note that both focus on prayerful contemplation, and this is a good thing in these raucous and distracted times. Beyond that, you might check the Celtic Worship link and give the Labyrinth a go. It is always open and much easier to visit than the Knidos Labyrinth.3

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The author excitedly showing his discovery to his colleague (photo by David C Maltsberger, used with permission).

Final words: the inscription on the Knidos Labyrinth first struck me a prayer for those lost in a maze (literally or figuratively). But a labyrinth of this type has only one winding path and no dead ends. One cannot get hopelessly lost on the path, but might tire of the changes in direction and despair of reaching the goal. Perhaps it is more appropriate to think of the inscribed words as the best general appeal for the twisting path and blind turns of life: “Lord Help.”

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1 Staffan Lundén, “A New Labyrinth at Knidos,” Caerdroia 33 (2003): 6-12.

2 For a nice overview of labyrinths and their recent revival, see The Labyrinth Society’s webpage.

3 Nevertheless, the Knidos Labyrinth has inspired several full-size versions; see Erwin Reißmann, “The Knidos Labyrinth,” BLOGMYMAZE LabyrinthBlog, December 17, 2008.


Pic of the Day 2017-10-08 (belated)

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia in the pre-sunset (6:03 pm) light (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

One of the most glorious things to do in Istanbul is take in the sunset and twilight light on Hagia Sophia. The proper vantage point is between the venerable church (then Mosque, then museum) and the nearly equally famous (but not nearly as impressive or historic) Blue Mosque, from which nice views of the latter can also be had. Patience rewards one with a transition of stunning views—and you can grab a durum döner to go at the adjacent Dervish Cafe and enjoy it with the changing light.

Hagia Sophia in the twilight
Hagia Sophia in the twilight, about 45 minutes later (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

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Pic of the Day 2017-10-06: Interfaith Interaction in Ancient Rough Cilicia?

This Pic of the Day post is 5 days delayed, but it is serendipitously appropriate in light of a fine talk I heard tonight at University Baptist Church on Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue as a “pillar” of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi—delivered by a former student and now CBF of MS Coordinator, Dr Jason Coker.

Of interest in current research by myself and David Maltsberger is Çatıören, yet another (of many) ancient ruins partly concealed by the jagged rocks and accursed (I have certainly cursed them) scrub oaks of aptly-named Rough Cilicia. The main attraction for us is a building that apparently served as a synagogue, owing to the Jewish menorah symbol carved on the lintel of the entrance door.

Çatıören: synagogue
Ancient synagogue at Çatıören; identified as such by the Menorah carved into the doorway lintel (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).
Çatıören: synagogue
Lintel with carved menorah over doorway of Çatıören synagogue (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The date of the synagogue is debatable. The building’s walls are of a Hellenistic style of masonry, but it is likely that its final use coincides with that of a nearby church and therefore probably 5th-6th centuries AD. The juxtaposition is all the more interesting when an equidistant pagan temple to Hermes is considered.

Hermes Temple
Temple of Hermes in 2016, taken from the tower above the Jewish synagogue at Çatıören (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The Hermes Temple has symbols representing the caduceus of Hermes in relief prominently carved above the main doorway. Crosses, naturally, are found on the Christian basilica. Cilicia is known to have remained a mix of paganism and Christianity (and Judaism) several centuries into the Christian Era. The religious structures at Çatıören highlight this cosmopolitan situation.

Çatıören, viewed from the South
Çatıören, viewed from the South, with locations of the Temple of Hermes, Jewish synagogue, and Christian church indicated (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

The carved symbols on those structures no doubt represent group identification in a period of pluralism; and perhaps even an attitude of exclusivism or tribalism, such as we see too often in today’s world. But it is also possible that they represent identification in a period of dialogue and mutual peace. Returning to tonight’s church discussion: Jason made the cogent observation that ecumenism and interfaith dialogue carry a certain risk—and that dialogue, understanding, and acceptance of others should not imply or include a loss of conviction in one’s own beliefs. There is no way to know for certain, but I would like to think that the residents of Cilicia in late antiquity carried on in such a manner. I found evidence of this ten minutes after leaving Çatıören in the necropolis (cemetery) of Korykos (modern Kizkalesi). There, sarcophagi (big stone coffins) with Jewish menorahs, pagan symbols, and Christian crosses lie next to each other with no hint of animosity—only symbolic proclamations of the faith under which they lived and died.

Korykos: Necropolis 3
A Jewish sarcophagus (with menorah on the “horn” of the lid) lies adjacent to a Christian one (cross on the side) in the Korykos Necropolis (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr).

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