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Did St. Nicholas Wear Red?

The strange-looking clothing in which Nicholas is often depicted in Christian and secular art is not what he wore as a pastor. Few know the truth of the life and ministry of Nicholas, and for this reason, those who know anything about him often believe he wore the attire associated with Santa Claus, but he did not.Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Immediately after Jesus died, Christians began to gather for worship on Sunday, rather than the Saturday-Sabbath of the Jews.[1] In those early years of the Christian church, believers wore dark clothing to church, and the reason for doing so is quite simple. The Romans, who had conquered a large part of the world at that time, wore dark clothing to their funerals and other serious or somber occasions. It was their way of showing respect for individuals or important events. Following the custom initiated by the Romans, Christians wore their best attire, and this was usually those darker tunics and robes that they also wore to funerals. Usually these dark colored clothes were the best clothes that believers and unbelievers alike owned. Christians reasoned that if the Romans could show their respect in what they wore, they also should demonstrate their esteem and reverence for God in this way.[2] But, not until after the tenth century did Christian ministers begin to assume the colorful dress and ceremonies associated with the Older Testament.[3] Eventually various colors were used for the pastor’s garments, but red was a dominate color used to symbolize the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Because later generations of Christian ministers began to wear colorful robes, early generations of Christian leaders were also believed to have worn them as well. For this reason, Christian art depicted Nicholas with these forms of dress. Nearly six hundred years would pass after the life and ministry of Nicholas before church history would record the first use of “the miter and the red cope” by the pope of Rome.[4] Almost universally Nicholas and other early Church leaders are depicted in Christian art dressed in the attire of bishops in the centuries that followed Nicholas’ ministry in Myra. The attire of a minister assumed great symbolism, and it is this later attire that is imposed upon Nicholas and his time period; but, Nicholas would not have worn any of these.

Papal Priest in Red

The hat is called a miter. It is a symbol of Christ as the helmet of salvation.

The red bishop’s cape or coat is symbolic of the blood of Christ that cleans­es from all sin.

The white stole is a symbol of the yoke of Jesus, a simple re­minder that they are his servants.

The bishop’s crozier (staff) is a symbol of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and it symbolizes the way in which the Chris­tian pastor cares for his flock.

No, Nicholas did not dress red as did the bishops of succeeding centuries. All of this came much later as was subsequently imposed upon the life and memory of Nicholas.

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Article Notes and Sources

[1] Never once in the writings of the Christian leaders that succeeded the Apostles are Christians said to worship on the Sabbath of the Jews—Saturday. Christian leaders who followed the Apostles, known as the Apostolic Fathers, always indicate that Christians worship on Sunday. In some cases, those who are believed to be worshiping on Saturday are severely reproved.

[2] George Smith Tyack, Historic Dress of the Clergy (London: W. Andrews, 1897), 15.

[3] Tyack, Historic Dress of the Clergy, 118.

[4] It does not seem that the attire of bishops was in use until the tenth and eleventh centuries when “the miter and the red cope [was used]according to the custom of the Roman pontiff.” Tyack, Historic Dress of the Clergy, 50-51.

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

Did St. Nicholas Wear Red

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Written by Dr. Stephen FlickNumber of posts: 203
Stephen Flick heads Christian Heritage Fellowship, a national organization dedicated to reclaiming America’s Christian Heritage and celebrating the life-changing influence of the Gospel around the world. Concerned with the cultural decay of America, Dr. Flick has sought to provide answers to fellow Christians (and unbelievers) concerning the questions and objections to Christianity often posed by secularists and the irreligious. Dr. Flick is a writer and speaker and has authored numerous articles and books on America’s Christian heritage. He earned his Ph.D. from Drew University in history and Christian theology and has taught at the graduate level as full professor. He has been a licensed minster for nearly forty years and resides in East Tennessee with his wife, Beth. They have two grown, married children and five grandchildren.
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