Basilique Saint-Nicolas du Port, Saint-Nicholas-de-Port
Portus (port) is what the Romans called the town on the Meurthe, the surrounding countryside Pagus portensis. The inhabitants are called Portois in French today.
At the beginning of the 11th century, the town was called Port. At that time, a first church was built, into which a relic was brought in 1090: a finger limb from the hand of blessing of Saint Nicholas. The crusader Aubert de Varangéville brought it from Bari, where the mortal remains of Saint Nicholas of Myra had been brought shortly before. From then on, the place was called Saint-Nicolas-de-Myre and became a place of pilgrimage.
More and more pilgrims came. That is why a larger church was built from 1193 onwards; in 1429, Joan of Arc is said to have prayed there before saving France. Today’s late Gothic basilica was built from 1481 onwards by order of the Duke of Lorraine, René II, and consecrated in 1560. The duke is said to have redeemed a vow with it: in 1477 he is said to have promised its construction if he could defeat the enemy Burgundians. He was victorious.
The basilica in the late Gothic Flamboyant style has the highest columns in France with its 28-metre-high columns. The nave is 32 metres high, the towers 85 and 87 metres respectively. During the Thirty Years’ War, on 5 November 1635, much of the village was destroyed. The village, now called Saint-Nicolas, has been called Saint-Nicholas-de-Port since 1961.
Since 1246, Saint Nicholas has been celebrated as the patron saint of the town and the region with a procession of lights: On the evening of the Saturday closest to 6 December, people gather for the procession of lights in the basilica. In the darkness, they sing the traditional song “Saint Nicholas of Lorraine”, pointing their candles towards the relic of Saint Nicholas. The candles carry umbrellas with song lyrics. The refrain:
« St Nicolas, ton crédit d’âge en âge
A fait pleuvoir tes bienfaits souverains;
Viens couvre encore de ton doux patronage
Tes vieux amis, les enfants des Lorrains. »