Bone-weary Turkish plea for return of Santa's bones

Turkey has seen the success its neighbouring countries Greece and Egypte have had in reclaiming their cultural heritage over the past years.
Turkish minister of Culture, Ertugrul Günay, seems to have become an adept follower of Zahi Hawass.
It looks like he wants to muscle his way in on the international stage by making equally challenging claims to robbed artefacts.

A puff piece appeared in the Turkish newspaper Milliyet stating that there are plans to build a Lycian Civilization Museum in Demre, displaying numerous artefacts of important historical persons, events and documents from Lycian history.
Demre, better known to us as Myra, was once the capital of Byzantine Lycia.
Not sure if there will be a focus on a specific part of history, although it seems they will just be using the term Lycian as a geographical denomer.
Apparently the museum is to be 'built' in Demre.
(I have put the word between brackets because the piece says a Roman ruin is to be re-used.) A thousand square metres to be recycled. 'The building is already there, it only needs a roof' it says.
Well, that's allright then...

Although everything is still on the drawing board, one thing is certain, once completed they will ask for the remains of the bishop of Myra, Sint Nicolas who lived there. Apparently it is not even a case of 'if' but 'when'.

Nothing like jumping the gun and making some spectacular announcements even before the whole concept of the museum is yet to be determined!

It sounds like Turkey is turning to the Elgin marbles and Cairo museum plot. They are circumnavigating the argument of countries claiming Turkey does not have the sufficient facilities to put artefacts on display.

I see some problems with this, although I am not an expert.
- Do human remains actually fall under the cultural heritage act?
- The body and person is being venerated up to this day, by no less than three (four?) sets of religious groups, it has not really lost its religious function to be displayed in a museum. My guess is the bishop of Bari is already on the phone with the legal people in the Vatican.

A side splittingly funny piece was written on the history of this bones extravaganza a couple of years ago by Dr Clive Gillis, who reports on 'The errors of Rome'. The bone repatriation is not a really new issue. But asking for them again under the guise of a museum is a new angle.

From Dr Clive Gillis' piece written in in December 2006:

"The Turks have a good case for return of the relics. The original raid was chronicled in enormous detail and the manuscript survives. The voices of the local monks absolutely refusing to surrender the bones still cry out from the parchment indicting Rome. The haughty reply of the crusading raiders condemns her still. [...]

Worse, when Vatican II demoted 90 saints as rank embarrassments in a modern world St Nicholas was amongst them, but with the proviso that devotion was allowable as a matter of personal choice. This is not how the Greeks, Serbs and Russians see it. St Nicholas is mainstream for them.

Now Benedict is trumpeting the cult as a bargaining chip for a take over of the Eastern Orthodox. Islamic Turkey he believes is not worthy to have the bones, but if the Orthodox agreed to reunion they would get some sort of possession of them.

But Bari would never agree to return the relics. These are the bones that work the ongoing tourism miracle.

Early in 2003, the bones dispute became public. A Turkish foundation dedicated to Santa Claus asked the Italian government to “retrieve the relics of St. Nicholas ... and return them to his native Turkey”. Muammer Karabalut, the foundation chairman, told the Associated Press, “We want them returned in 2003. We’re starting a campaign this year for them to be given back”. For the Turks this is possession by Antichrist.

But the priests of San Nicola in Bari were equally scathing. Besides rejecting any Turkish claim to the bones out of hand, Father Gerardo Cioffari, historian at the basilica, impugned Turkish motives. “They ask for the remains only to keep tourism alive ... They don’t venerate St. Nicholas”. He pointed out that the bones are now secured in blocks of reinforced concrete (which is actually intended to precipitate the “manna”). Cioffari said that local popular piety would prevent any such return of the relics. “If the remains were moved there would be a revolution here ... Even the Vatican couldn’t do anything about it.”

I don't think a secular Turkey would actually like the fact that a museum will be built with state money and then discover they'd be sponsoring a Christian pilgrimage site.

The renewed plea for the return of the bones is just a way of trying to rally some interest in the museum plans, or it might be yet another form of going head to head. I cannot really deem it a serious request in light of a museum context.
It looks like the original plan, to return the bones to the tomb in the St Nicholas church, has now been swept aside altogether.
Keeping tourism alive and well in Myra is one thing. Using the museum as an excuse is quite another.

But some bones will not really do the trick. As Dr Gillis, the pope bashing protestant concludes:
"After all, like the endless supply of wood from the true cross, there are usually sufficient bits of any relic to go round."

Demre has much redeeming features and rich architecture to prove it. The rock tombs and the amphitheatre just to name a few.

They do not really need bones.

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