Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas (the real one). I was reading up on some hagiography (study of the saints) and came upon this story. The tradition is thin here, but it is a story worth telling all the same.
Some think Nicholas (a bishop) was at the Council of Nicea (325). The purpose of the council was to sort out some early doctrinal issues, and the major debate concerned the Arian controversy. Arius taught that Jesus was not divine, but was instead merely a prophet. The Council of Nicea ultimately determined this to be a heretical teaching. Hence the Nicene Creed: “We believe … in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father, …”.
Anyway, the story goes that Arius stood to make his case at the Council. As Arius vigorously made his case, Nicholas grew more and more agitated. Finally losing his cool, he charged Arius and punched him in the face. St. Nicholas – the brawling Santa!
The bishops stripped Nicholas of his garments and threw him in jail until the Council ended. While chained up in jail, Nicholas prayed for forgiveness. Jesus and Mary appeared to him and asked why he was in jail. “Because of my love for you” replied Nicholas. He was given a book of the Gospels and Mary have him new pallium. (On some reports various other bishops had a vision of this). Of course Nicholas’ theological view was confirmed, and he was ultimately forgiven and reinstated as Bishop of Myra.
The miracle is represented in the pictured icon (you can see Jesus on the left giving him the Gospels and Mary on the right with the episcopal pallium).