Santa Claus' untouched tomb may be beneath surface of church in Turkey, says archaeologist

The untouched grave of St. Nicholas --- better known as Santa Claus --- may be located just below the surface of a church in the Demre district in Turkey's southern Antalya province, according to an archaeologist.

(REUTERS / Kacper Pempel)A man dressed like Santa Claus sits in his sleigh as he prepares for Christmas on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, December 19, 2007.

Hurriyet Daily reported that a special section with a grave site has been found at the St. Nicholas Church in Demre district, which is known as the saint's birthplace. Antalya's Monument Authority head Cemil Karabayram said they discovered the untouched tomb while running digital surveys just beneath the church's surface, the Daily Sabah relayed.

"We believe this shrine has not been damaged at all, but it is quite difficult to get to it as there are mosaics on the floor," Karabayram told Hurriyet.

St. Nicholas' remains were previously thought to have been smuggled to Bari, Italy, by Italian merchants in 1087. However, Karabayram said the bones they took actually belonged to a priest.

Karabayram said they may be able to get to St. Nicholas' untouched burial site, but they are still looking for researchers who will finish the work. Nevertheless, archaeologists have already started on the groundwork and are now set to continue the excavation below the surface.

In 2015, the Anadolu Agency reported that excavations at the Santa Claus Museum in Demre have resulted in the discovery of Ottoman-era ceramics and Byzantine era artifacts. At the time, the head of the museum excavations talked about the bones of Santa Claus.

Hacettepe University Faculty of History of Arts Professor Sema Dogan mentioned a few years back that Turkish experts had tried to have the alleged stolen bones of Santa Claus returned. However, at the time, they did not know the exact location of St. Nicholas' burial site and if the bones taken to Italy were really his.

Dogan also explained that St. Nicholas was an important figure in both Greek and Russian Orthodox Christianity, as he was a patriarch during the 4th century. It is believed that he helped children, sailors, the poor, and women who had no children.