Manna of Saint Nicholas
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas, a real person born sometime between AD 260 – 280 in Patara an area which was Greek at the time, now part of the southern coast of Turkey. Nicholas dedicated his life to serving God, became the Bishop of Myra, and is known to have attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He died December 6, 343 and was buried in a church in Myra. At this site a relic called “Manna of Saint Nicholas” formed. This manna (oil in the Eastern tradition) is actually transparent pure water that formed inside the tomb of the Saint. It was determined that this was not from the outside of the tomb, as the casket containing the bones of Saint Nicholas was impermeable.
On May 9, 1087, the casket containing the bones of Saint Nicholas was transferred to the Basilica di San Nicola (Basilica of Saint Nicholas) in Bari, Italy where the “manna” continues to form in the crypt.
Why do Catholic's venerate relics?
To some it may appear macabre to keep or venerate a relic. But is this any different from someone who keeps a lock of a loved one’s hair after they have passed, or those who pay large sums of money to possess a piece of clothing from a famous person?
A relic is not a good luck charm, nor is it magical; it is simply a tangible reminder of a holy person whose soul in now in heaven in the presence of God.
For Catholics the following Bible passages confirm the practice of veneration of relics and that God chooses to work miracles through material items associated with saints.
“Moses also took Joseph’s bones along, for Joseph had made the Israelites swear solemnly that, when God should come to them, they would carry his bones away with them.” (Exodus 13:19)
“Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band. So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to this feet.” (2 Kings 13:21)
“Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.” (Acts 5:15-16)
“So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that, when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12)
Outside of the Bible the earliest surviving mention of relic veneration is dated around 150 AD from The Martyrdom of Polycarp. Here the followers of Saint Polycarp recount “We took up his bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.” Essentially the bones of St. Polycarp are his relics and they were buried in a tomb which itself became the reliquary.
In 907, St. Jerome wrote in Ad Riparium, XXII, “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are.”
In 1564 The Council of Trent Session 25 summed up the Churches teaching on relics with:
“All bishops and others who hold the office of teaching…above all instruct the faithful diligently in matters relating to intercession and invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics, and the legitimate use of images, teaching them that the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their prayers to God for men, that it is good and beneficial suppliantly to invoke them and to have recourse to their prayers, assistance and support in order to obtain favors from God through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who alone is our redeemer and savior…that the holy bodies of the holy martyrs and of others living with Christ, which were the living members of Christ and the temple the Holy Ghost, to be awakened by Him to eternal life and to be glorified, are to be venerated by the faithful, through which many benefits are bestowed by God on men.”
On December 6th, it is customary for the clergy of the Basilica di San Nicola to lower a flask into the subterranean tomb of Saint Nicholas and extract the “manna” that continues to emanate from the relic.
The relics of Saints (and the manna of St. Nicholas), like the Sacraments, are spiritual helps for us believers to enliven our faith and to sustain us in the midst of our human weakness.
Saint Nicholas has been named patron saint of more causes than any other saint. He is chosen as a special protector of churches, cities, and countries. Today Saint Nicholas is most known as Patron Saint and protector of children, both sick and healthy.
Saint Nicholas Pray for Us.
Saint Nicholas Icon - Lipensky
The Life of Saint Nicholas - Fra Angelico
Saint Nicholas Manna Bottle
Jesus Heals the Woman Subject to Bleeding - Boullogne
Saint Nicholas tomb under the altar at the Basilica di San Dicola, Bari, Italy
Saint Nicholas Giving Alms - Jan Heinsch