The 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 Sea.
Although this Basilica belongs to the Roman-Catholic church and is managed by the monks of the Dominican Order, priests of different Christian confessions are allowed to offer services in the crypt. Multi-denominational services are also common here.
You can experience a very special feeling when you have the opportunity to come into contact with this great spiritual treasure!
Despite the crowds of people speaking different languages, downstairs in the crypt there is reverential silence as Christians of different denominations and countries pray in common spiritual unity. Indeed, this Basilica can be described as an ecumenical center of Christianity.
History of the transfer of Saint Nicholas' relics from Myra to Bari
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.
Many Italian historical sources explain that the main reason for this act was to protect the relics from the Turks who were controlling this part of Asia Minor at that time. It’s also known that Venice and Bari were competing to be the first to own the relics of St. Nicholas.
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 1087 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.
Myrrh exuding relics of St. Nicholas
From ancient times Christians from Europe made pilgrimage to Bari to venerate the relics of St. Nicholas and obtain the wonderworking myrrh.
The myrrh continuously exudes from the bones of St. Nicholas and is collected once a year on May 9, the Feast Day of the Transfer of the Relics from Myra to Bari. Myrrh is collected from the tomb with the help of a pump, placed into a special vessel, and diluted with holy water.
Pilgrims from different parts of the globe distribute the myrrh among their relatives and friends to bring comfort and bodily and spiritual healing from St. Nicholas.
The myrrh (Italians call it "manna") is available for pilgrims in the small church store in the basilica.
Although bottles with myrrh contain just a drop of pure myrrh, it can provide wondrous help. You can drink it or put it on the problem parts of your body – the wonders of the saint's relics never end.
Russian Orthodox Church Complex with the temple of St. Nicholas in Bari
In approximately 30 minutes walking distance from the basilica there is a Russian Orthodox Church complex with the temple of St. Nicholas.
This church was built in the beginning of the 20th century as a complex for Russian pilgrims who were coming to Bari to bow down before the relics of their most worshiped Russian saint, wonder-worker, speedy helper and intercessor for all, patron of all children, travelers, sailors and merchants.
During the Soviet regime, this church didn't have enough funds to operate because of the persecution of the Orthodox Church. Russian immigrants in Bari sold the church complex to the municipality of the city in 1937.
In March 2009 the entire church complex including facilities for pilgrims, was officially returned to the Orthodox Church of Russia by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
The church has been fully restored and Orthodox pilgrims have the opportunity to pray there during their stay. The church was granted permission to serve the Divine Liturgy in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Nicholas. The Divine Liturgy on the relics of St. Nicholas is served once a week (on Thursdays). The faithful can approach and kiss the raka with the Holy relics.