Santa's Irish resting place


CURIOSITIES:SANTA CLAUS may well be buried in a little country graveyard in south Kilkenny. Incredible as this might seem there is evidence to substantiate the possibility that Saint Nicholas of Myra, the original Santa Claus, is buried just west of Jerpoint Abbey, one of the finest Cistercian ruins in Ireland, in Co Kilkenny. The unmarked grave is in the ruined church at Newtown-Jerpoint (two kilometres outside Thomastown) once the site of a thriving Norman town that was abandoned in the 17th century probably due to plague, writes Gerry Moran.

St Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Turkey, died in AD 342 and was buried there. How his remains, or a portion of them, arrived in south Kilkenny has much to do with the Norman crusaders.

Jerpoint Abbey was founded around 1158 by Donnchadh Mac Giolla Phádraig, King of Ossory. In 1180, it was taken over by the Cistercian order. In 1200, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, of Kilkenny Castle, decided to build a new town just across the river from Jerpoint Abbey. He called the town Nova Villa Juxta Geripons meaning "The New Town Across from Jerpoint". That same year the Church of St Nicholas of Myra was built in the town and, according to the historian Canon Carrigan, the tomb was laid that same year also.

When Strongbow invaded Ireland in 1169, his most trusted lieutenant was Sir Humphrey De Fraine. When the church of Newtown-Jerpoint was built and dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra in 1200, the most powerful Anglo-Norman baron in south Kilkenny was Nicholas De Fraine, son of Sir Humphrey.

The story goes that the Norman Knights of Jerpoint, the crusading De Fraines (or De Freynes) when forced to evacuate the Holy Land exhumed the remains of St Nicholas of Myra and brought them to Normandy from where they eventually found their way to Jerpoint. The remains were laid to rest beneath a slab, now broken across the centre, depicting a monk in habit and cowl.

The grave, whether it be that of the real Santa Claus or not, can still be seen to this day.