St. Nicholas Turns Two Thieves Away From a Life of Crime
Some Background on the Real St. Nicholas
In life Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in modern Turkey, had a reputation for caring for and protecting his flock.
Even before he became a Bishop at a very young age, he used the wealth he had inherited from his parents to help others. The story of how he secretly provided money for the dowries of the three daughters of a merchant who had fallen on hard times is a classic that has continually been retold down through the centuries.
After his death, St. Nicholas continued to watch over and help his flock on earth. There are an abundance of tales about St. Nicholas making appearances on earth after his death to both help those in distress as well as attempting to get those who have strayed to turn their lives around and away from crime and immorality.
Like a good father, St. Nicholas encourages people, especially children, by rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior - even today we still warn children to be good if they want Santa Claus to bring them gifts and not punish them by leaving a lump of coal.
Here is a story about how the good saint steered two young thieves away from a life of crime. Because of this act, St. Nicholas became the patron saint of thieves who repent and change their ways.
Patron Saint of Thieves who Repent
Giuseppe and Alfredo grew up as neighbors in a poor village in the mountains of Italy many years ago. Even as little boys they had a tendency to get into trouble and as they grew older their transgressions became more serious and by their mid-teens they were petty criminals living a life of crime.
In their heart of hearts they were still good boys and knew that what they were doing was wrong. But to themselves they justified their actions citing the injustice of being born into poor family living in an area of great poverty which offered them little opportunity to improve their lot in life. While there was some truth to this view of theirs, it was also true that both Giuseppe and Alfredo had a strong aversion to hard work.
While they went about their life of petty theft, their widowed mothers prayed daily for God to touch their sons' hearts and inspire them to turn their lives around.
Hearing the prayers of their mothers, God called upon St. Nicholas and asked him to try to convince Giuseppe and Alfredo to turn away from their life of crime.
The Mothers' Prayers are Answered
St. Nicholas waited until evening and then came to each boy in a dream as they slept in the hut of a herdsman who was away with his heard of sheep.
Knowing the herdsman would be spending the night with his flock, Giuseppe and Alfredo had entered the hut and eaten the scraps of bread and cheese and drank the remainder of the jug of wine the herdsman had left in his cupboard for when he returned. Their hunger satisfied and sleepy from the wine they had stretched out on the palate the herdsman used for a bed and went to sleep.
Suddenly, St. Nicholas appeared standing before them demanding to know what they were doing.
Oh, they tried to justify their actions with a feeble excuse – if they hadn't eaten the food the mice probably would have so the herdsman would have lost either way.
And besides, the herdsman had a hut and a job while they had nothing in life – it was only just that the herdsman share his good fortune with them.
But St. Nicholas would have none of that and, in their dream, he took them on a tour to show them the results of their misdeeds.
Giuseppe and Alfredo Learn How the Herdsman Acquired His Hut
He first showed them the herdsman, a young man like themselves who had been born to poor parents who had no home and who had died of the plague when he was very young.
From that young age the herdsman had worked hard caring for the sheep of others, sleeping in the fields with the sheep in summer and in the sheds with them in winter. He lived off of scraps of food and wine given him by his employers and only recently been given the little hut to live in and had acquired a couple of sheep of his own.
Giuseppe and Alfredo fidgeted uncomfortably as St. Nicholas whisked them off to the next site – the home of the lady whose purse they had stolen in the market.
Stealing A Few Coins From a Poor Farmer's Wife
They were baffled as to why St. Nicholas had returned them to the scene of this crime – it was so minor compared to some their other heists.
The lady whose purse they stole was a farmer's wife selling some vegetables in the market. As Giuseppe distracted her with questions, Alfredo had quietly lifted her purse and slipped away.
There were only a few copper coins in the purse but they had been enough to buy a loaf of bread and a small jug of cheap wine for their supper that night. How much harm was there in taking a few small coins? Besides, she would had probably recouped that amount and a little more from the sale of her vegetables that day.
However, St. Nicholas did not accept this justification and proceeded to show them what happened after they had left.
The lady had worked hard to grow the vegetables and was saving the money to buy her husband a new pair of shoes so he would not have to go barefoot in the coming winter.
And so it went as St. Nicholas took them from one crime to another showing them the pain and suffering their actions had wrought on the lives of others. Like Giuseppe and Alfredo, their victims had all been born poor and continued to struggle to survive one day to the next.
However, unlike Giuseppe and Alfredo, all of their victims worked hard and earned what little they had rather than taking it from others.
St Nicholas Shows the Two Where their Life of Crime Will Ultimately End
Their final stop was the town square of the market town in the valley.
Having already visited the scene of all their past crimes in this town, Giuseppe and Alfredo had no idea why St. Nicholas had chosen this spot. However, St. Nicholas sternly told them to pay attention as they were about to see what the future held in store for the two of them.
Shortly there was a commotion as a knight on horseback rode toward the town square followed by a cart containing two young men.
The young hands of the two young men were tied behind their backs. As the cart made its way through the small crowd in the square, those in the crowd jeered and threw clods of mud at the men in the cart.
Reaching the center of the square both the the knight and the cart came to a stop.
Giuseppe and Alfredo See a Gallows in the Center of the Square
It was then that Giuseppe and Alfredo noticed the gallows that had been erected in the middle of the square.
The knight pulled a scroll from his belt and read a list of the thefts the two in the cart had committed – thefts that sounded eerily like those committed by Giuseppe and Alfredo.
As the guards attending the cart proceeded to hang the two thieves, St. Nicholas directed the attention of Giuseppe and Alfredo toward the two weeping women at the edge of the crowd and told Giuseppe and Alfredo that this was the worst crime of the two thieves in the cart – the breaking of their mothers' hearts.
The crowing of a rooster awakened Giuseppe and Alfredo. St. Nicholas was gone and they were alone in the hut. Badly shaken from their experience of the past evening, both returned to their village and devoted the rest of their lives to working and caring for their families rather than lazily living off the hard work of others.
A Closing Note
This story is a work of fiction. However, it is based upon old legends about St. Nicholas appearing before thieves and convincing them to change their ways. In most of the legends, St. Nicholas not only gets the thieves to change their ways but to also return the property they had stolen.
While St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of thieves, he does not watch over and protect thieves from the law or their victims but rather protects them from themselves by getting them to change their ways and thereby avoid the consequences that results from leading a life of crime.
© 2006 Chuck Nugent