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Pottery Vessels Connected to with the Oil Cult of Saint Nicholas at Myra

The ancient city of Myra in the Demre-Kale township of Antalya province was part of ancient Lycia and was the metropolis of the region from the 4th to the end of the 14th century. In adition the city is noteworthy for the well known Christian Saint Nicholas, who lived and was buried there. The fact that Saint Nicholas was buried at Myra is documented in the vita of Saint Nicholas of Sion, dated to 565. According to the sources, the body of Saint Nicholas was preserved in a sarcophagus that was continuously filled with the oil that was brought as votive offerings by the pilgrims. The pilgrims poured the oil that they had brought into the sarcophagus and collected the oil that had been sanctified having touched the bones of the saint, and they took this oil with them when they returned home. In regards to the form of the vessels that 'were used for carrying the holy oil, the painting of the Sea Story (Tahamuda de Artemide) provides us with information 'with the depiction of the unguen-tarium-like vessel that Saint Nicholas holds in his hand. In this scene, Saint Nicholas holds a vessel filled with holy oil and pours it over Satan. Unguentaria similar to the one in this painting have been unearthed in the course of excavations at Demre-Myra. These finds can be considered an important group of material evidence concerning the oil cult of Saint Nicholas in Myra.

The excavations in the Church of Saint Nicholas at Demre-Myra continue under the direction of S. Yıldız Ötüken. A total of 41 unguentaria, which we think are related to the holy oil cult of Saint Nicholas, have been discovered during the course excavations to be date.

Unguentaria are vessels known from the Hellenistic Period onward and they are also known by the same name in the Period of Early Christianity. The unguentaria of the aforementioned periods have two types: known as "spindle" and "onion" forms. In the Early Christian Period, only a single type "continuing the spindle form" is known and is always dated to the 5th-7th centuries. 35 examples of this type have been found in excavations at Demre-Myra. Nine of these were described by the author in a previous publication. In this article we present the new finds of ungentaria from the Demre excavations.

The new finds from Demre provide us with examples of a new type of unguentaria, as well as examples of the "Early Christian type". It is possible to think that this new type was a continuation of the form the form of the "onion" type belonging to the Hellenistic-Roman Periods. This new type has an oval bottom -not flat- that continues and forms the body of the vessel and has narrow neck and a flat mouth. When their findspots are taken into consideration, it is difficult to propose a firm date for the examples of this new type as they were unearthed in filling layers. However, their form and decorative features suggest a date later than the 5th to 7th century date for the first group.

From publications it can be inferred that the first group is a common find. Published examples exhibit a close similarity present close in regard to their form, clay and firing features. This may suggest that these vessels were produced at certain centers. This view is further supported by the article on the Byzantine road network that proposes that the unguentaria from Limyra could have been produced at Myra due to the cult of holy myrtle oil (myrrh) However, chemical analysis is necessary in order to determine whether these vessels were produced at a single center or locally at Myra within the production-consumption and buying-selling systems of Byzantine culture.

*Yrd. Doç. Dr. Ayşe Ç. Türker, Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Sanat Tarihi Bölümü, Çanakkale.

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