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The Real 'Santa Claus' Rescues Three Innocents

History seems to confirm at least a few key details from the life of Nicholas of Myra, the real early church leader we know today as Santa Claus. One of the most gripping stories occurred between 330 and 332 AD. Nicholas, now 70 years old, was serving as the Bishop of Myra (or modern day Turkey). One day Nicholas received an urgent report that Eustathius, the governor of the region, was about to execute three innocent men.

Nicholas set off at a brisk pace for the Praetorium, or palace, to speak with Eustathius. Nicholas suspected foul play as Eustathius was known to be corrupt and easily bribed. While en route, Nicholas was stopped and informed that the convicts had already been moved to "the place of the beheading" known as Byrra. The concerned bishop wheeled around and took off at dead run in the opposite direction.

He burst into the plaza of Byrra to find the condemned men on their knees, hands tied behind their backs, and faces covered with linen cloths. The men had given themselves up for dead. Nicholas forced his way through the crowd of wide-eyed gawkers, yanked the sword from the executioner, and threw it to the ground. Dramatically, he untied the prisoners' hands and set them free. Then he marched off to find the governor, Eustathius, in order to chastise him for his miscarriage of justice—condemning innocent citizens without a proper trial. (At the time, as a local bishop of the church, Nicholas had the constitutional right to intervene in legal matters like this.)

Back at the Praetorium, Nicholas "broke down the door." He burst inside, and a sentinel hurried off to inform the governor of his arrival. Eustathius, trying to maintain his composure, greeted Nicholas with deference and compliments. Bishop Nicholas was not amused; he stopped the governor in mid-sentence and accused him of being a "thief" and an "enemy of God," calling him "sacrilegious and bloodthirsty and unjust." According to one historical account, Nicholas told Eustathius:

And you even dare to come before me, you who do not fear God! You who had the cruel intention to kill innocent people! Since you committed this kind of wickedness I cannot have any respect for you. God is reserving for the unjust a tortured life …. He knows how your government works and how this province allows looting and killing men against the law and without trial for deadly greed and gain.

Eustathius wilted under the assault. He fell to his knees and begged for forgiveness. After Eustathius admitted his guilt, in the end, Nicholas prayed a long prayer and pardoned the guilty governor.

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