The Panama Canal and St. Nichols, patron saint of travelers and sailors

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of travelers and sailors, both of whom find themselves at the Panama Canal.

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm ( NMI 272). By Bjoertvedt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

CHARLOTTE, NC, May 22, 2017 – One of the best aspects of travel is learning how other people in other cultures view the world. Perhaps travel can or will change your mind. More likely it will reinforce your personal opinions but either way, it is eye-opening and rewarding.

Currently, I am traveling in Panama where I came to see the canal, but I have learned so much more. Panama is new to tourism and it shows. They have to catch on to the riches that the hospitality industry can produce. Panamanians are sweet gentle people who make a minimum wage of $1.50 an hour. A three dollar tip is worth its weight in gold.

Costa Rica is an environmental paradise, and Panamanians are environmentally aware. The Panama Canal, one of the seven wonders of the modern world, is itself an artificial 48-mile (77 km) waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean.

Panorama of Pacific entrance of the canal. Left: Pacific Ocean and Puente de las Americas (Bridge of Pan-American Highway); far right: Miraflores locks.

The purpose of the canal, which cuts across the Isthmus of Panama, was to make international maritime trade easier. The canal has “locks” on each side. Ships enter the lock on one side, the lock is filled with water from Lake Gatun and the ship rises 26 meters above sea level. As the ship moves to the other side of the lake, they once again enter a canal where the ship is lowered back to sea level.

The canal saves ships more than seven thousand miles by bypassing the need to travel down around the tip of South America.

Just recently a third lane of locks was created, a task started in September 2007 and finished a year ago in June of 2016 and allow transit of larger, Post-Panamax ships, capable of handling more cargo.

During this period of travel, I have learned about a new place on this earth and the people who call it home.

So when I read a story about a relic of Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of Children who, as everyone knows inspired the figure of the Dutch Sinterklass and the American Santa Claus, traveling from its home since 1807 in the Southern Italian city of Bari, located on the back side of the boot, it made me wonder what Panama might be like ten centuries or more from now.

Will the canal still exist? Will tourists journey from thousands of miles away to marvel at the ingenuity of 20th-century technology? Or will what we consider to be a wonder today be nothing but a historical footnote tomorrow?

But back to Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, Italy who became known throughout the Christian world for his generosity and secret gift giving. St. Nicholas was a man who lived his convictions and was not intimidated by the power of others and as such he became a model for other bishops as a defender of the faith.

As a result of last years visit between Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill in Cuba, a relic was taken from the saint, one of his ribs is traveling to Moscow for veneration by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Russia split in what was called the Great Schism of 1054 and the two factions have had little in common for the next ten centuries.

The relic is traveling with the archbishop of Bari, Francesco Cacucci along with the prior of the Basilica of Saint Nicholas, Father Ciro Capotosto, the mayor of Bari, Antonio Decaro, and the president of the southern Italian region of Puglia, Michele Emiliano. The hope is that the Catholic and Orthodox Church of Russia will move closer together.

Press descriptions are calling it a “historic event”, a “gesture of love and peace” and a “seed of ecumenism” as a remnant of his body has been transferred to a site where the sainted bishop of Myra is especially adored.


In addition to being the Patron Saint of Children, Nicholas has also become the patron saint of travelers, like me, sailors, merchants, pawnbrokers, travelers, bankers, and repentant thieves by both the Catholics and the Orthodox.

In the scheme of today’s news events, perhaps this story carries little weight, but it does remind us that people from all over the world can find common bonds that transcend cultural biases.

Travel will do that to a person. It is the ultimate common denominator. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus, and there are even bones to prove it.

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.


Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

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