We are just outside the Irish town of Thomastown, in Kilkenny. According to a local legend, the remains of Father Christmas lie within the medieval grounds of what’s left of the abandoned medieval village of Newtown Jerpoint.
The ruins of Saint Nicholas’ Church, which dates to sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries, still stand. Local legend has it that Saint Nicholas, the inspiration behind Santa Claus, is buried within a cracked, carved tomb in its grounds.
The man buried there It’s more probably a local priest from Jerpoint Abbey, however, according to local tradition, two Norman crusaders nabbed the saint’s remains while heading home to Kilkenny from the Holy Land over 800 years ago. Saint Nicholas’ supposed tombstone depicts a cleric with the heads of two knights peering over his shoulder, which probably represent the knights who carried the bones.
According to the legend, St. Nicholas have been buried in Newtown Jerpoint in the 12th century. Evidence lends some credence to this tale as the Normans in Kilkenny were keen collectors of religious relics, and it is known that Norman knights participated in the Holy Land Crusades.
Though it’s true that Norman knights from the area were part of the crusades, the theory that they stole and relocated Father Christmas isn’t widely accepted by non-locals.
Historically, the village of Newtown Jerpoint was founded in the 12th century at the main crossing of the River Nore where there was a toll bridge, that gave Jerpoint its name, meaning “Nore bridge”.
Once it was a bustling village with over a dozen taverns, about 27 dwellings, a court house, woollen mill, a tannery and a brewery.
However, the loss of its toll bridge and the re-routing of the local road eventually caused its residents to abandon it around 17th century.
Now, the ruined church and tomb are within the privately owned Jerpoint Park, a working farm that offers tours, fishing, and sheep dog demonstrations.
The land was purchased by the former pig farmer Joe O’Connor (in photo) who explains that years ago, all he found was a “for sale” sign on the gate that overlooked an overgrown mass of land.