Archaeologists may be on the cusp of finding ruins beneath the ancient church that could house the remains of the saint behind Santa Claus.
Located in the Antalya province in southern Turkey, Demre is known to be the birthplace of the much-revered Christian saint St Nicholas.
During electronic surveys researchers found there were gaps beneath the ancient St Nicholas Church.
They now believe it could contain an undamaged grave and bones of the revered saint.
If they’re correct, it could settle a long-running debate about the where he was laid to rest – as well as dash the hopes of millions of children.
Known for his gift-giving and charity to the poor, the fourth-century saint was the inspiration behind the legend of Santa Claus.
Records say St Nicholas was buried at the church built in his name.
However his body’s exact whereabouts has always been a mystery – until now.
The latest discovery support claims St Nicolas was born in the third century and lived and died in Turkey.
However, the tomb lies beneath a mosaic so the tiles will need to be removed carefully.
‘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,’ head of Anyalya’s Monument Authority Cemil Karabayram told Hurriyet Daily News.
‘We have obtained very good results but the real work starts now,’ he said
The temple is currently inaccessible due to the stone reliefs blocking it.
‘We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of Saint Nicholas’, he said.
Researchers now believe at the time of his death in 343 A.D., Saint Nicholas was interred at the church in Demre, where he lay undisturbed until the 11th century.
Previously, it was believed the 1,674-year-old remains were smuggled to the Italian city of Bari by merchants in the year 1087.
However, Turkish archaeologists are now suggesting the wrong bones were removed – and the ones that went to Italy belonged to an anonymous priest.
Dr Karabayram suggests the wrong bones were taken when the church was burnt down and then reconstructed.
He says he optimistic about finding Santa’s corpse in the new crypt.
The expert is currently trying to hire researchers from eight different specialisms to carry out work at the tomb.
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