Saint Nick’s Nudes
On a recent tour a woman, upon being shown the image of St. Nicholas with naked boys behind him in the Temple of Good Health, made an off color comment about a Catholic Bishop, once again, being surrounded by nude young boys.
On one hand, I was surprised assuming the lads were present in St. Nicholas’ role as patron of children’s health. On the other hand, it did make me ponder why there were only boys, and just where were their clothes?
St. Nicholas was a third century Turkish Bishop. Tradition states in the same village there was an evil butcher that kidnapped three small boys, chopped them up with an axe and pickled their body parts in a barrel. Their remains were then to be made into meat pies and sold much like Sweeny Todd attempted centuries later in London.
St. Nicholas became aware of the horror, rushed to the butcher’s shop, placed his hands on the barrel and said a prayer. Then, as the painting shows, the boys leap from the barrel back alive and whole symbolizing rebirth through baptism and prayer.
Every Monday evening you can join the rosary and procession for St. Nicholas (in his signature red) around the Temple of Good Health. Faithful give thanks for his continued intercessions in the well being of children and on account of this, nearly 200 Mexican cities bear his name and his December 6th feast day is widely celebrated.
For those in SMA St. Nicholas is all about children’s health. To most Northerners St. Nicholas is remembered as the inspiration of Santa Claus. It is from Saint Nicholas we get holiday traditions like stockings and his staff became immortalized as a candy cane. Godiva chocolates produces a large, solid chocolate of St. Nicholas each December with at his chocolate feet are three boys and a barrel.
In European countries they become obsessed with what happened to the butcher. The legend is he is condemned to follow St Nicolas in shame and remain a despised character for all eternity. While St. Nicholas gives away toys to the good children, the butcher, dressed in brown, follows alongside as a holiday Bogeyman giving coal to the bad children. In German speaking countries his name is Krampus and instead of bringing coal, be brings his barrel to place bad children into and that’s the last you see of them!