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2005-08-12 - 11:36 a.m.

Souvenirs - I have bought with me into the office a souvenir from Tlos - carved on black stone - nine soldiers marching in line - in profile - a copy from one of the major tombs in the necropolis. I have also had a first shot assembling some of the digital imagery - needless to say there is a more abstract passage - using the Myra masks and faces from the theatre.

I have been pulling together some info on Sura - a dependency of Myra with a temple to “Apollo“

.The name Sura is derived from the word “Soaura” which meant “great and sacred Swa/Soa” in the Luwian/Etruscan language. They say that in ancient times, there used to be a temple dedicated to Men, the Anatolian Moon and Light god. Apollon, formerly Men, was venerated in and the name of the temple and the centre for prophecy became “Apollon Soura”. It was the foremost Apollon sanctuary and centre for prophecy in the eastern Lycian region. Letoon - was the western centre - Leto was the mother of Artemis and Apollo and it is said she gave birth to the twins at Letoon.

When Christianity spread in Anatolia, a Byzantine chapel with a single apse was built in the north of the Temple of Apollon at Sura. Sura’s popularity began to decline as the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra became popular and the church became a place of pilgrimage. It is said that Nicholas’ first church was not at Myra itself but on an island in the harbour.

As far as the fixed points of Christianity are concerned, Paul stopped at Myra on his final journey to Rome around AD 50 - but I think his initial journeys were further to the east in Lycia. Nicholaus might have been born in 270 AD and was active in the 4th century AD. So Sura will have been a Christian centre by the 3rd century century or earlier.

There is some cracking myth spoken in relation to N eg:

‘When they "had planted near the running waters and brought forth fruit in due season," the divine Nicholas, the mother ceased to bear; sterile from that day producing no more children, as if Nature, having lavished such bounty, could give no more. When the mother brought him into the light as at once the purest and the last noble offspring, a fruit of true spiritual union, the parents endowed the world with the acme of the virtues, that truly beautiful and bounteous issue—Nicholas [I repeat], the admirable!

Although their son typified with his conception that of the Baptist, whose mother, though sterile, brought him forth, yet John, when he was brought into the world, unlocked his mother's womb, but Nicholas conversely closed his.”

Other biographers claim Nicholas attacked the heresy of Arius (who denied the full divinity of Christ) in a much more personal way—he traveled to the Council of Nicea and slapped Arius in the face! As the story goes (and this should be taken as fantasy because there are pretty good records of the council, and Nicholas isn't mentioned), the other bishops at Nicea were shocked at such rude behavior and relieved him as bishop. But then Jesus and Mary appeared next to him, and they quickly recanted.

I love the way this sort of thing emerges from a massively rich mythical heritage. I have mentioned the famous Sura fish oracle ceremonies. Apparently carved on the inside of the temple are a number of inscriptions recording devotions paid by suppliants not to Apollo Surius, but to Sozon the Anatolian horse-man god and Zeus Atabyrius the Rhodian deity. At the southwest corner of Sura's acropolis is a row of rock-cut stelae with lists of clergy attached to the cult of Apollo Surius.

According to Pliny: "At Myra in Lycia at the fountain of Apollo whom they call Surius, the fish, summoned three times on a pipe, come to give their augury. If they tear the pieces of meat thrown to them, this is good for the client, if they wave it away with their tails, it is bad."

Polycharmus writes in the second book of his Lycian history. '...when they come to the sea, where is the grove of Apollo by the shore, on which is the whirlpool in the sand, the clients present themselves holding two wooden spits, on each of which are ten pieces of roast meat. The priest takes his seat in silence by the grove, while the client throws the spits into the whirlpool and watches what happens. After the spits are thrown, the pool fills with seawater, and a multitude of fish appear as if by magic, and of a size to cause alarm. The prophet announces the species of the fish and the client accordingly receives his answer from the priest. Among the fish there appear sea bass and bluefish and sometimes whales and sawfish and many strange and unknown kinds.'

Apollo's sister Artemis had a cult center in Myra. Myra's main cult was dedicated to Artemis Eleuthera, a distinctive form of Cybele, the ancient mother-goddess of Anatolia. She had a magnificent temple in Myra but it was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 141 AD. I think Nicholas’ shrine may be on this site. It is said that the temple of Artemis was the most impressive and stunningly beautiful structure in all Lycia. It occupied large grounds, with beautiful plantings, an inner court defined by columns, an altar, and a statue of the goddess.

With this kind of heritage it is hardly a surprise that Nicholas now has sway over the minds of millions of children.

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