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Santa Claus's tomb may have been uncovered beneath Turkish church

The Guardian logo The Guardian 05-10-2017 Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul
St Nicholas Church in Antalya, where Saint Nicholas is believed to have been born. © Getty Images St Nicholas Church in Antalya, where Saint Nicholas is believed to have been born. Turkish archaeologists have dashed the hopes of millions of children by claiming to have uncovered the likely burial place of Saint Nicholas. 

Surveys have uncovered an intact temple and burial grounds below St Nicholas church in the province of Antalya, where the saint is believed to have been born, archaeologists told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

“We have obtained very good results but the real work starts now,” said Cemil Karabayram, the director of surveying and monuments in Antalya. “We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of Saint Nicholas.”

Revered for his gift-giving and aid to the poor, the fourth-century saint gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus.

In recent years, the church in Demre district in Antalya, near his birthplace, has been restored and draws many visitors. Demre is built on the ruins of Myra, the city where Saint Nicholas, revered by many denominations in Christianity, is believed to have lived.

It had been thought that the remains of Saint Nicholas were transferred from Demre by sailors, who smuggled them to the city of Bari in Italy, where the St Nicholas Basilica still stands.

But based on documents obtained from the area, Turkish archaeologists now believe, that the remains belonged to a local priest rather than the legendary saint, whose body may still be within the temple complex. The theft probably took place after the church was burned down and was being restored.

The archaeologists recently began the fresh surveys, discovering the temple below the modern church using geo-radars. They said the temple was almost fully intact but is inaccessible due to the presence of stone reliefs and mosaics that need to be preserved.

Excavation work will allow scholars to access the temple grounds below the church to determine whether it still holds Nicholas’s body.

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