What St. Nicholas (a.k.a. “Santa Claus”) actually looked like

Forensic experts have done their number on the skull of St. Nicholas of Myra and have reconstructed what this notable 4th century Christian–who slapped Arius at the Council of Nicea and was famous for his generosity to poor children– must have actually looked like:

St. Nicholas reconstruction

The thing is, he looks pretty much the way our cultural imagination thought he would look! I mean, dress him in a red suit and put a pointy cap on his head, and you’ve got our notion of Santa Claus!

OK, he lacks the ruddy complexion, but Myra is in present-day Turkey and St. Nicholas was a Middle Easterner. As for the white beard, this is an element in ancient iconography of St. Nicholas, so it is not unlikely that he had one. He also has a broken nose. Maybe Arius hit him back!

Click the link for details about how this research was conducted. Though some of the relics held by Catholic churches are spurious, some, such as the bones of specific saints, are well-attested. I’d like to see more of this sort of thing. Seeing what these folks looked like reminds us of the historicity of the Christian faith through the ages and that the great figures of church history were human beings who were not that much different from us.

HT: Paul McCain

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Larry

    This is not directly related but related, does anyone know of any good summary relating the story of St. Nicholas of Myra as it may delve into “where santa clause comes from”?

    My kids are starting to ask.

    Sorry for the rabbit trail question.

    Yours,

    Larry

  • Larry

    This is not directly related but related, does anyone know of any good summary relating the story of St. Nicholas of Myra as it may delve into “where santa clause comes from”?

    My kids are starting to ask.

    Sorry for the rabbit trail question.

    Yours,

    Larry

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Good question, Larry, and an easy one: St. Nicholas by Julie Stiegmeyer, a fine author of children’s books, published by Concordia Publishing House.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Good question, Larry, and an easy one: St. Nicholas by Julie Stiegmeyer, a fine author of children’s books, published by Concordia Publishing House.

  • Mary

    There is also a new book out by William Bennett. The True St Nicholas, Why He Is Important to Christians.

  • Mary

    There is also a new book out by William Bennett. The True St Nicholas, Why He Is Important to Christians.

  • Larry

    Dr. Veith and Mary,

    Thank you very much!

    Larry

  • Larry

    Dr. Veith and Mary,

    Thank you very much!

    Larry

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I love this stuff. I suppose this puts me in the position of supporting grave-robbing, but I’d be excited to see a massive project to reconstruct the faces of historical personages. Computer technology has simplified the process immensely.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I love this stuff. I suppose this puts me in the position of supporting grave-robbing, but I’d be excited to see a massive project to reconstruct the faces of historical personages. Computer technology has simplified the process immensely.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I wonder how much of the forensic reconstruction was influenced by the early iconography.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I wonder how much of the forensic reconstruction was influenced by the early iconography.

  • Pingback: Grassstains.net » It Won’t Convince Andy

  • Pingback: Grassstains.net » It Won’t Convince Andy

  • http://radongas.blogspot.com M Burke

    He even has a twinkle in his eye!

  • http://radongas.blogspot.com M Burke

    He even has a twinkle in his eye!

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Looks a little lean, kinda like in that “Rudolph” version before Mrs. Claus fattens him up. :^)

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Looks a little lean, kinda like in that “Rudolph” version before Mrs. Claus fattens him up. :^)

  • Jonathan

    Wonder if they will do the same for Saint Paul?!

  • Jonathan

    Wonder if they will do the same for Saint Paul?!

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Some Catholic churches claim to have the relics of various of the Apostles. St. Peter’s bones are supposedly buried in the Vatican. I suspect St. Paul’s are venerated somewhere in Rome. Let’s check them out and do some facial constructions!

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Some Catholic churches claim to have the relics of various of the Apostles. St. Peter’s bones are supposedly buried in the Vatican. I suspect St. Paul’s are venerated somewhere in Rome. Let’s check them out and do some facial constructions!

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I understand they think they have Paul’s bones. But he was beheaded. Is the skull even included?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I understand they think they have Paul’s bones. But he was beheaded. Is the skull even included?

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    A recent Issues, Etc. program about St. Nicholas mentioned that while he probably slapped someone at the council of Nicea, it could not have been Arius, because Arius was not invited to the council, being “just a priest.” It may have been Eusebius of Nicomedia (who, according to Wikipedia, baptised Constantine and was a supporter of Arius).

    The guest on that Issues, Etc. program was Pastor Heath Curtis of Trinity Lutheran in Worden, IL and Zion Lutheran in Carpenter, IL. I’d always thought Nicholas slapped Arius himself, too, so this was news to me!

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    A recent Issues, Etc. program about St. Nicholas mentioned that while he probably slapped someone at the council of Nicea, it could not have been Arius, because Arius was not invited to the council, being “just a priest.” It may have been Eusebius of Nicomedia (who, according to Wikipedia, baptised Constantine and was a supporter of Arius).

    The guest on that Issues, Etc. program was Pastor Heath Curtis of Trinity Lutheran in Worden, IL and Zion Lutheran in Carpenter, IL. I’d always thought Nicholas slapped Arius himself, too, so this was news to me!

  • Pingback: More Christmas-y Links : Semicolon

  • Pingback: More Christmas-y Links : Semicolon

  • Fr Christopher Kelley

    St Athanasius was a DEACON, but attended the First Council of Nicaea. The idea that priests COULD NOT attend is erroneous. Many bishops had assistants, entourages. And while the Pope of Alexandria would NOT have brought Arius, a priest of his own diocese, Arius did have a supporter in Eusebius of Nicomedia, as stated.
    The question might rather be: Did Arius have official “seat & voice”? No. Not unless it were granted to him by the bishops of the Council.
    Arius was a man who liked to be “out & about”, liked to “hobnob” & “schmooze.” The Council would have been a magnet to him! He’d invested a lot of energy in popularizing his error; he was not going to let it go down without a fight.

  • Fr Christopher Kelley

    St Athanasius was a DEACON, but attended the First Council of Nicaea. The idea that priests COULD NOT attend is erroneous. Many bishops had assistants, entourages. And while the Pope of Alexandria would NOT have brought Arius, a priest of his own diocese, Arius did have a supporter in Eusebius of Nicomedia, as stated.
    The question might rather be: Did Arius have official “seat & voice”? No. Not unless it were granted to him by the bishops of the Council.
    Arius was a man who liked to be “out & about”, liked to “hobnob” & “schmooze.” The Council would have been a magnet to him! He’d invested a lot of energy in popularizing his error; he was not going to let it go down without a fight.

  • http://www.stnicholassociety.com James Rosenthal

    This is very important as St Nicholas leads us to Christmas as Santa leads to himself. St Nicholas is important as a Middle East saint as well esp in Beit Jala Palestine. Try ST NICHOLAS A CLOSER LOOK AT CHRISTMAS as well.

  • http://www.stnicholassociety.com James Rosenthal

    This is very important as St Nicholas leads us to Christmas as Santa leads to himself. St Nicholas is important as a Middle East saint as well esp in Beit Jala Palestine. Try ST NICHOLAS A CLOSER LOOK AT CHRISTMAS as well.


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