ST. NICHOLAS CHALLENGE
BAG OF BONES
Back in the 11th century, 1087 to be precise, a band of seafarers under the flag of Bari anchored at the port of Andriake along the Lycian coast. Upstream the Christian capital of Lycia, Myra was falling to ruin. Turkish tribes were on the move defeating Byzantine armies on the Anatolian plateau and Saracen raids terrorized the Levantine coast. Orthodox monks kept the Basilica of St. Nicholas at Myra and protected the marble sarcophagus of St. Nicholas until the sailors arrived to retrieve (steal) his sacred skeleton.
The bones are now housed in the crypt of the 'Basilica di San Nicola' built 1087-1197 during the Italo- Norman domination of Apulia. Pope Urban II (inaugurator of the first crusade) was present at the consecration of the crypt in 1089 and the place has become an important pilgrimage for Italians and orthodox Christians from Russia and Eastern Europe. May 9 is the festival 'Translation of the Relics' with a flotilla of small boats re enacting the arrival of a sack of bones and celebratory harbour procession.
With other saints' suffering from religious fatigue, Saint Nick is pushing for top spot with his popularity as Santa Claus and patronage over many a folk and country. In recent years the scruffy agricultural town of Demre whose plastic sheeted greenhouses and orange groves cover many an ancient spoil has benefited through the increased numbers in visitors. High on the list of places to see are the Lycian rock tombs carved from the cliff overlooking a well preserved Roman period theatre. In the town centre the ruins of St Nicholas church part excavated from below the waterline open the doors to congregations of tourists passing through each day.
The local authorities are now demanding the return of the holy bones to Saint Nick's homeland and initial place of rest. The citizens of Bari know when they are on to a good thing; the city has been making a good living for nearly a thousand years accommodating pilgrims and selling trinkets, icons and 'manna' pure holy water formed from the tomb and bones of the saint. The bones look set to stay put in the Italian church unless an act of religious piracy and high sea adventure could bring the saintly remnants back home to Myra.........
TO RETRIEVE SAINT NICHOLAS and RETURN HIS SACRED BONES TO THEIR RIGHTFUL PLACE, if not at least carry some 'manna' to sprinkle on Myra's sacred basilica.
A MODERN PILGRIMAGE
Turkey has the St. Pauls Trail, now it's time for St. Nicks' voyage.
The expeditionary pilgrimage will start in Bari, Southern Italy. The challenge is to sea kayak 2600km across the Adriactic and Agean Seas before paddling the south western coastline of Turkey calling in at Patara (St. Nicholas Birthplace) before arriving at Andriake the port of Myra. The voyage finishes at the St. Nicholas Church in Demre with the saints blessing.
The route starts from the city of Bari on Italy's southern Adriactic coast heading north following the Apulian coast to Peschici. Our Adriactic crossing calls in at the remote Island of Paluza before several Croatian islands en route to the mainland. Our journey continues southwards paddling the Montenegro, Albanian and Greek shoreline. After navigating the Corinth Canal we head eastwards across the Aegean Sea island hopping across to mainland Turkey. The journey continues along the Carian and Lycian coast of the Eastern Mediterranean finishing at St. Nicholas' bishopric seat in Myra.
Saint Nicholas is patron saint of sailors; protector of the kayakers who endeavour to participate in such a physical challenge venturing through the tides of history paddling across the Eastern Mediterranean.
DATES APRIL, MAY, JUNE 2014 (3 months)