Maritime Monday for December 24th, 2012: May Saint Nicholas Hold the Tiller

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December 23, 2012


A Visit From Saint Nicholas, 1862


St Nicholas Blessing the Sailors
(full size)

Mosaics and Stained-Glass
Nuremberg, Germany – Circa 1500, Workshop of Mikhael Wolgemut

imageSaint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, and students in Croatia, Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. The historical Saint Nicholas is honored by Catholic, Orthodox Christians and by various Anglican and Lutheran churches.

He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla (Colombia), Bari (Italy), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Beit Jala in the West Bank of Palestine, Liverpool (England) and Russia. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. In Germany survivors of shipwrecks traditionally brought patches of sailcloth to Saint Nicholas as votive offerings.

He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Eastern Roman Emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. So beloved is St. Nicholas by Russians, one commonly heard saying is “if God dies, at least we’ll still have St. Nicholas.”source


This mosaic of St Nicholas is in Westminster Cathedral in London
photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. – (4333 x 2911)

Saint Nicholas of Myra, whose feast is on the 6th of December, is the patron saint of sailors and is often called upon by mariners who are in danger of drowning or being shipwrecked.

According to one legend, as a young man Nicholas went to study in Alexandria and on one of his sea voyages from Myra to Alexandria he is said to have saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship’s rigging in a storm.


image: How It Goes Down: Mad Men As Prophecy & Postmortem


St. Nicholas’ prayer calming seas
Artist: Elisabeth Jvanovsky

Nikolaos is the patron saint of Greece, where his primary role is as the protector of sailors and seamen.

At Christmas small fishing boats honor him, especially in the islands, with decorations of blue and white lights. Tradition has it that his clothes are soaked with brine, his beard always dripping with seawater, and his face covered with perspiration because he has been fighting storms to reach sinking ships and save men from drowning.

imageGreek ships carry an icon of St. Nicholas, as he is regarded as master of wind and tempest. Sailors light a candle before the icon, a small model of a ship, praying for safe passage. When a ship is in danger the captain prays making a solemn promise to bring a tamata, a model of a small ship of silver, gold, or carved of wood, if they make port safely.

On return from such a voyage, the captain and sailors take the model (or painting), representing their ship, to church. In thanksgiving for their safety, they place it before a St. Nicholas icon. It is given as testimony to protection received, not as intercession for future aid.

The Greek Navy pays tribute to the patron saint of sailors with a special ceremony at the Hellenic Naval Academy.

Santas & Sailors on Aft Deck Musings . . . .


“Belles Heures” (The Beautiful Hours) of the Duc de Berry
early 15th century illuminated manuscript

Suffrages of the Saints Saint Nicholas Saves Travelers at Sea, Folio 168r:  In one of the most dramatic scenes in this section of the manuscript, a ship veers wildly out of control in a stormy sea, its mast already broken and the sailors reacting emotionally. Saint Nicholas grasps the ship’s crow’s nest to steady the vessel, and already the stormy sky at right is resolving to the serene blue at upper left. The corkscrew waves painted in silver, white, and blue shimmer on the page.

full size

Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry
on wikipedia


St Nicholas of Bari Rebuking the Storm, Bicci di Lorenzo

When making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Nicholas‘ ship was caught in a violent storm off the coast of Lycia . The storm threatened to wreck the ship and the sailors invoked the aid of Nicholas. Nicholas calmly prayed. The storm tossed mariners were astounded when the wind and waves were becalmed, and the ship was able to make it safely to port. (from)


St Nicholas of Myra
Detail from St Dominic’s priory church in London
photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. — (2968 x 4034)

imageThe holy relics of St. Nicholas are lying in the crypt (underground level) of the Basilica of St. Nicholas in the city of Bari located on the shore of the Adriatic.

In 1071 the city of Bari, an important trading port and capital of Byzantine Italy, was conquered by the Normans and lost its economical and political role.  The people of Bari decided to go to Myra of Lycia in Asia Minor (presently a territory of the province of Antalya, Turkey) to retrieve the relicts of St. Nicholas. They hoped that the holy relicts of the most venerable saint in Byzantine would help to restore the authority and popularity of the city. In addition, St. Nicholas always was the patron of sailors and merchants.

In 1087, 62 sailors from Bari headed to Myra.  Disguised as pilgrims, they hid their swords and knifes under their cloths, approached the tomb, opened it, and took out the relics which exuded myrrh.  Despite the resistance of the monks who were guarding the tomb, the sailors were able to transfer the stolen relics to the ship.

In May, the ship reached the shores of the city of Bari which initially planned to place the relics in the city’s cathedral, but later decided to build a special temple. Construction of the new temple started in June 1087.  In 1089 the crypt of the basilica was built and the relics were placed in a new tomb where they lay at the present time.

Visiting Basilica of St. Nicholas (Bari, Italy) (by Vera Bourenina)
more photos


Unknown Master — Sw. Mikolaj ratujacy okrept przed zatoniecien
Muzeum Narodowe Warsaw, Poland


Quaratesi Polyptych: St Nicholas Saves a Storm-tossed Ship, c. 1425
by GENTILE DA FABRIANO (1370-1427)


 By the power of prayer St. Nicholas stilled
the tempest and saved the ship

Fra (Beato) Angelico; The Story of St Nicholas Saving a Ship, Perugia Altarpiece
Vatican Pinacoteca /The Vatican (see full screen)

“St Nicholas with the Emperor’s Envoy and The Miraculous Rescue of a Sailing Vessel,” painted between 1437 and 1449, by Fra Angelico. Given the extensive use of gold in the frame, this work is thought to have been commissioned by wealthy patrons. It depicts a merchant ship assailed by storms, finally coming safely to port.

Tracing Renaissance art to the birth of modern banking


Stamp commemorating the 1087 voyage of the translation of
St. Nicholas’ relics from Myra in Asia Minor, to Bari, Italy

from 1950; St Nicholas Center Collection:
Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus

Transfer of the Body of Saint Nicholas from Myra in Lycia to Bari in Italy


St Nicholas Lightship, Lowestoft, Suffolk taken 1923
location: 52° 31′ 41.48″ N, 1° 47′ 15.7″ E


Long before being transformed into Santa Claus, Nicholas was the patron saint of New York City… and sailors. The miracle he is most associated with is known as “The Multiplication of The Wheat”

Grain Ships and Famine

imageMyra experienced famine in AD 311 and 312, and again in 333. Crops had failed and people were hungry. Bishop Nicholas learned that ships bound for Alexandria with cargos of wheat had anchored in the harbor. The holy man implored the sailors to take a measure of grain from each ship so that the people would have food.

The sailors said, “No,” as the wheat was “meted and measured” and every bit must be delivered. Nicholas replied, “Do this, and I promise, in the truth of God, that it shall not be lessened or diminished when you get to your destination.”

So the sailors took a measure from each ship and continued on their way to Alexandria. When the wheat was unloaded, the full amount was accounted for and the tale told—all the emperor’s ministers worshiped and praised God with thanksgiving for his servant Nicholas.

Throughout the famine people came to Bishop Nicholas for wheat. He gave it to all who had need and the grain lasted for two years with enough remaining to plant new crops.

image:  Saint Nicolas, by Pierre & Germaine Noury, Paris, 1928


Christmas on the Cunard Line R.M.S. Aquitania
by Charles Welton – 1921

“Christmas knows neither caste nor class. It establishes itself as part of the ship’s schedule for a full twenty-four hours, and the Patron Saint of the Day succeeds to command in all matters, except the purely technical function of navigation, with the full approval and consent of the Captain and the general endorsement of all others.”

see also: Christmas Dinner At Sea – A Holiday Article from the Cunard Line


Aristides Milakis “Saint Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Sailors”
(Icon on wood, 2011)


stained glass window depicting St Nicholas (detail)
photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.
full size 2072 x 4571


Santa Claus
photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.
(1928 x 3969)

Window from St Nicholas’ Cathedral in Newcastle, of the saint with the three boys he rescued from death, and the three golden balls which he gave to rescue three girls from slavery. These gifts are at the root of the gift-giving of Santa Claus, as he is also known.


Icon: St. Nicholas Saves Ship – St. Nicholas Center Collection

Further Reading:
Scenes from the Life of St Nicholas


 Last moments for the TSMS LAKONIA

The passenger ship TSMS Lakonia, sailed by Greek Line, was on a Christmas cruise on December 22, 1963 around 11 pm while the ship was about 180 miles north of Madeira when fire broke out…

keep reading on Cruising the Past

see also: Cunard Christmas Number; 1928


Christmas At Sea
Jack’s Mess; antique print; 1855

by Robert Lewis Stevenson

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every longshore home;
The windos sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born…

keep reading


23 November, is the feast of Pope St Clement I

The relics of St Clement are preserved beneath the high altar of the basilica of San Clemente in Rome and the painting in this photo hangs in the refectory of the Dominican priory adjoining the basilica.   (2312 x 1722)


Patron saint of mariners; St. Clement:
Martyrdom of St Clement by Fungai, circa 1480
(full screen) on Generally Nautical

imageClement (1st century AD) was the first of early Rome’s most notable bishops. According to apocryphal (writings) dating to the 4th century at earliest, Clement was banished from Rome to the Chersonesus (Crimea) during the reign of the Emperor Trajan and was set to work in a stone quarry.

Finding on his arrival that the prisoners were suffering from lack of water, he knelt down in prayer. Looking up, he saw a lamb on a hill, went to where the lamb had stood and struck the ground with his pickaxe, releasing a gushing stream of clear water.

This miracle resulted in the conversion of large numbers of the local pagans and his fellow prisoners to Christianity. As punishment, Saint Clement was martyred (approx  AD 100 ) by being tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea.

imageleft: St Clement Sterling Silver Medal

The legend recounts that every year a miraculous ebbing of the sea revealed a divinely built shrine containing his bones.

A year or two before his own death in 869, Saint Cyril brought to Rome what he believed to be the relics of Saint Clement, bones he found in the Crimea buried with an anchor on dry land. They are now enshrined in the Basilica di San Clemente.

In works of art, Saint Clement can be recognized as one having an anchor at his side or tied to his neck. He can also be seen depicted near a fountain or spring, relating to the incident from his hagiography, or lying in a temple in the sea. The Anchored Cross or Mariner’s Cross is also referred to as St Clement’s Cross.

Pope Clement I on wikipedia


Anchor Jewelry – Mariners Cross and Anchor Wax-Seal Pendant
($85.00 USD on Etsy)


Stained glass Anchor
Detail of an anchor in Newcastle Cathedral
photo byFr Lawrence Lew, O.P.


St Brendan the Navigator by Marchela Dimitrov

Saint Brendan of Clonfert or Bréanainn of Clonfert
(c. 484 – c. 577) – called called “the Navigator” or “the Voyager” is one of the early Irish monastic saints, chiefly renowned for his legendary quest to the “Isle of the Blessed.”

Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator

imageMany versions exist that tell of how he set out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixty pilgrims searching for the Garden of Eden.  The most commonly illustrated adventure is his landing on an island which turns out to be a giant sea monster called Jasconius or Jascon.

De Reis van Sint Brandaen describes “Brandaen,” a monk from Galway, and his voyage around the world for nine years.

On his journeys Brandaen encounters the wonders and horrors of the world,  people with swine heads, dog legs and wolf teeth carrying bows and arrows, and an enormous fish that encircles the ship by holding its tail in its mouth.

As a genre, The Voyage of St Brendan (in Latin, the Navigatio Sancti Brendani) fits in with a then-popular form of literature, peculiar to Ireland, called an immram, that describes a hero’s series of adventures in a boat.

Typically, an immram was a sea-voyage in which a hero, with a few companions, often monks, wanders from island to island, meets other-world wonders, and finally returns home. Thus, Saint Brendan is the Patron Saint of sailors, travelers, and Scuba Divers.


Bredan the Navigator tea towel by Rachel Arbuckle

The Celtic band Iona made an entire recording inspired by the voyage of Saint Brendan called Beyond These Shores, now available as part of the recording The River Flows. The Irish rock band The Elders have a song on their album “Racing the Tide” called “Saint Brendan Had a Boat.”

Canadian indie band The Lowest of the Low correlate the voyage of St Brendan to the Atlantic passage of French and Irish immigrants to eastern Canada in the song “St Brendan’s Way” on the album Shakespeare My Butt. At the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, a large stained glass window commemorates Brendan’s achievements.

see also: Saint Amaro, a semi-legendary Spanish navigator and saint.


This is Bantry’s wonderful statue of St Brendan the Navigator
staring out to sea from Wolfe Tone Square

on The Solitary Walker


Brendan the Navigator
– see 1118 × 684



Christmas at sea
– How to be a Retronaut –


Mersey Bar Captain Nicholas Burns of the lightship Planet

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