The transfer of Saint Nicholas to Bari had great repercussions in Russia, as attested by numerous contemporary manuscripts and the fact that the feast dedicated to it is already attested in a mesjaceslov (calendar of the feasts of the saints) of 1144. The pilgrimages from Russia to Bari, which began at least in the second half of the fifteenth century, intensified especially from the end of 1600.
Today the Romanesque basilica is probably the only Catholic sanctuary to be visited by Orthodox pilgrims who in the crypt, at the tomb, have their own altar for the recitation of the services. The Russian Orthodox pilgrimage, initially semi-clandestine, became more and more frequent until it became a mass pilgrimage after 2000.
The presence in the Basilica of the Orthodox pilgrimage has become so considerable that the Dominicans decided to make an opening gesture by handing over the church of St Nicholas to the Orthodox pilgrims on 22 May and 19 December, taking advantage of the fact that, according to the Julian calendar, these dates correspond to the Nicholas solemnities of 9 May and 6 December.
A choice in profound harmony with the ecumenical gesture made by Pope John Paul II who, in February 1984, lit the uniflamma lamp pouring oil with the Orthodox Metropolitan of Myra Chrysostomos Konstantinidis. The lamp, placed next to the tabernacle, is in the shape of a caravel and indicates the only Catholic and Orthodox faith, nourished by two traditions, the Eastern and the Western. The lighting of the uniflamma lamp will be (has been), together with the veneration of the relics of St Nicholas, one of the most significant moments of Pope Francis’ visit to the Basilica of Bari on July 7, 2018.