Saint Nicholas and the Pawnbroker


Saint Nicholaspawn brokerSaint Nicholas and the Pawnbroker:
Through his great acts of kindness and generosity, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of many; of seafaring men, of marriageable young women, of the falsely accused, of endangered travelers, of farmers, of children (of course), of merchants, and of pawnbrokers. Pawnbrokers and bankers in northern Italy, who would look to Saint Nicholas as their patron saint, would hang three golden balls above the doors of their shops in tribute to, and for good luck from, their Saint Nicholas.

Another legend tells of the pawnbroker who made a loan to a friend with no collateral to secure the debt. The friend however swears on the icon of Saint Nicholas that he will repay the loan from the pawnbroker on a fixed date. When that date comes around, and the debt is due the pawnbroker, his friend refuses to pay the debt, insisting that he owes the pawnbroker nothing. To settle the matter, the borrower and the pawnbroker take their case to court for the judge to decide. The debtor declares under oath that he has given the borrowed money back to the pawnbroker. Technically, the debtor spoke the truth, for unknown to all in the court, he had secretly deposited the exact sum of money owed into a hollow shaft of his walking cane, which he had tricked the pawnbroker into holding while he declared his oath of repayment. With no evidence of guilt, the judge of the court decides in favor of the debtor. This dismayed the pawnbroker who felt betrayed by his patron Saint Nicholas.

Leaving the court, the crooked borrower was making his way home, and after becoming fatigued, was forced by exhaustion to lie down by the side of the road to rest where he fell into a deep, trance-like sleep, from which no passer-by could awake him. Unable to wake or move him, a passers-by watched in horror as the crooked borrower was run over by a runaway horse and wagon, and he suffered a painful death. The passers-by then notice lying on the road, the valuable contents of the debtor's walking cane that had been broken open by the wheel of the wagon. The passers-by called the pawnbroker and the judge to the scene of the accident. The pawnbroker counts the spillage of coins to find that they total the exact amount borrowed from him, but he refuses to take the money while his one-time friend lies lifeless.

The pawnbroker prays that if the power of Saint Nicholas is great enough to take the life of the crooked debtor to expose his fraudulent claim, surely the good and merciful Saint could bring his friend back to life. Heartened by the good will and generosity of the pawnbroker, Saint Nicholas obeys the prayer, and miraculously, the debtor opens his eyes, stands, and walks to the pawnbroker. He repays all the money he owed.

The story of the debtor and the pawnbroker helped establish the role of Saint Nicholas as the protector of financial integrity and guardian of commitments made in good faith. 

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