Codsall Parish Church is dedicated to St Nicholas; all that is really known for certain about St Nicholas is that he was the bishop of Myra during the 4th century and became famous for his faith and good deeds. He was probably born in Patara in Lycia, then a province of the Roman Empire and now in Turkey, and is said to have gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After he became bishop of Myra (the capital of Lycia), he was possibly imprisoned during the anti-Christian persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian (who ruled between 284 and 305), as he refused to deny his faith. He is said to have been released by Constantine (who ruled from 306 to 337), the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Nicholas remained the bishop of Myra, and probably died between 345 and 352, traditionally on the 6th December. This date is therefore the Feast of St Nicholas, when we particularly remember his life and witness.
The first Life of St Nicholas was written by St Methodius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople and died in 847. It therefore cannot be considered particularly reliable! However, from this time St Nicholas’ popularity grew and many more legends were created about his life.
These stories include Nicholas rescuing innocent prisoners from execution and saving sailors from shipwreck in a storm. One of the most famous, and earliest, stories is that St Nicholas heard that a man living in Patara had lost all his money, and so could not afford for his daughters to marry. He was worried that he might be forced to sell them to evil men, but, one night, Nicholas took three bags of gold and threw them into the man’s house, saving the girls. It was this generosity which led to the tradition of giving gifts to children on his feast day in parts of Europe. This tradition was taken to America by Dutch settlers, where he became known as Santa Claus (from the Dutch, Sinte Klaas, for St Nicholas) and the tradition of gift-giving was transferred to Christmas Eve. However, we still honour the earlier tradition!