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St. Nicholas—Patron Saint of Pawn Shops

Many people don't realize that Santa Claus, based on the real historical person of Saint Nicholas, a leader in the early church from the city of Myra, also has another less-known title—the patron saint of pawnshops. How could this jolly old fellow be known as the patron saint of such a seedy business? In the Middle Ages, montes pietatius were charities similar to urban food banks. They were created as an alternative to loan sharks. These charities provided low-interest loans to poor families. Started by Franciscans, they became widespread throughout Europe.

In a traditional story, which is probably based on real events, Saint Nicholas generously provided a poor man dowries for his three daughters, gold coins in three purses. The symbol of gold coins in three purses became the symbol of pawnshops and fit with his title of patron saint. In the 1300s, people in poverty met caring friars when they entered the doors of pawnshops. The shops existed to help the poor get back on their feet. These friars had their best interests in mind.

Today, often the opposite is true. Over time, pawnshop owners lost sight of their identity. Created for good, pawnshops have drifted away from their purpose. From caring for the needy to an instrument often preying on families in distress, pawnshops have lost their original intent.

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