THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Santa Claus and Lithuania’s Grand Duchess buried in same South-Italian basilica
(maybe no need to tell your kids…)
Grand Duchess Bona Sforza (1494-1557) and St. Nicholas (270-343).
The Basilica di San Nicola in the South-Italian city Bari was built between 1087 and 1197. Its foundation is related to the stealing and burying of the relics of St. Nicholas (270-343) from the saint’s original shrine in Myra in what is now south-west Turkey.
When Myra passed into the hands of the Saracens, some saw it as an opportunity to move the saint's relics to a more hospitable location. According to the justifying legend, the saint, on a trip passing by the city on his way to Rome, had chosen Bari as his burial place.
There was great competition for the relics between Venice and Bari. The latter won and the relics were carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Muslim masters, and on 9 May 1087, were safely landed at Bari. A new church was built to shelter Nicholas' remains and Pope Urban II was present at the consecration of the crypt in 1089.
460 years pass, and Lithuania’s Grand Duchess Bona Sforza, now widow after Grand Duke Sigismund the Old, comes to Bari to claim the dept Spain’s King Philip II has to her – but instead she is poisoned and dies here in Bari in 1557.
It was, by the way, Bona and her mother, Isabella d'Aragona, princess of Naples, Duchess of Milan and Bari, who transformed the Bari Castle, that so much dominates the city’s old town, into a cultural centre and adding imposing defensive bastions to it. Today the castle is the seat of a Gallery of plaster casts and of temporary exhibitions..
The Sforza family’s role in Bari was indeed very important, and it’s no wonder that Bona’s sarcophagus in the St. Nicholas Basilica even today fully symbolizes and represents this role.
So here they are, St. Nicolas who later became better known as Santa Claus, and Bona Sforza, the Grand Duchess who also was the mother of the two last representatives of Lithuania’s famous Jagiellon Dynasty, Sigismund Augustus and Anna Jagiellon.
With them the 300-year Dynasty after the House of Gediminas ended, and today the world knows very little about what once was Europe’s largest country, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
And, ironically enough, relics of the woman who was such a leading symbol of Lithuania’s days of glory are to find right here in Southern Italy – along with the relics of a truly main symbol of our today’s Christmas traditions...
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