ARCHAEOLOGISTS believe they may have uncovered the tomb of Saint Nicholas underneath an ancient church in Turkey.
Researchers claim the remains of the holy figure – who inspired Santa Claus – were recently discovered under a 6th century building more than 1,600 years after his death.
St Nicholas passed away on December 6, 343 AD, and was allegedly buried at the UNESCO recognised church located in the small coastal town of Demre.
But his alleged tomb, which has been described as the original Santa’s grotto, was not found until 2017 when researchers conducted electronic surveys.
Turkish archaeologists reportedly detected a crypt 5ft beneath the marble slabs which make the church’s floor.
One long standing theory is that the tomb shifted underground during an earthquake and remained undiscovered until modern techniques allowed experts to scan below the surface.
Osman Eravsar, the head of the provincial cultural heritage preservation board in Antalya, issued his theory to Demirören News Agency last week.
“The first church was submerged with the rise of the Mediterranean Sea, and some centuries later, a new church was built above,” he said.
“Now we have reached the remains of the first church and the floor on which Saint Nicholas stepped.
“The tiling of the floor of the first church, on which Saint Nicholas walked, has been unearthed.”
Another added: “There is a grave and it seems more magnificent, more special, than the ones in the church.
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“Other priests’ graves were at the corners but this holy one is in the middle.
“This is a mystery since, although there was an earthquake, these walls look undamaged.”
Researchers initially thought St Nicholas’ body had laid in the tomb inside the church before being stolen by Italian thieves in the 11th century.
However, Turkish archaeologists have since suggested the wrong bones were removed – and the ones that went to Italy belonged to an anonymous priest.
Nicholas’s relics, meanwhile, remain enshrined in Bari’s 11th-century San Nicola church and have been available to public view.
St Nicholas is believed to have been born 270 years after Jesus and lived in Demre for most of his life.
The devout Christian dedicated his life to helping the poor and needy, and even spent his inheritance on the cause.
He was particularly known for his secret gift giving and gained a reputation for leaving coins in people’s shoes.
St Nicholas’ kindness became the stuff of legend over the centuries and he was later popularised as Father Christmas, who gives presents to children.
The Dutch took their version “Sinterklaas” when they settled in America, where he became the Santa Claus many know today.
Saint Nicolas Day is continued to be celebrated and remains popular with many kids in parts of Europe, who receive presents on this day.
Some European cities host special parades or celebrations, in honour of the patron saint.