St. Nicholas of Myra was known to be both wealthy and very generous, traits that inspired the story of Santa Claus.
After testing a bone fragment purported to be that of the saint that inspired the Santa Claus legend, Scientists from the University of Oxford have discovered that it could indeed have belonged to him, reported the Independent.
Through radiocarbon testing, they discovered the relic was a fragment of pelvis bone and dated to the fourth century A.D., the same era that the historical St. Nicholas is believed to have died.
“Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest,” said Professor Tom Higham, co-director of the Oxford Relics Cluster, the program that dated this bone fragment.
“This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St. Nicholas himself,” he added.
Though he is now mostly associated with the Father Christmas and Santa Claus legend, St. Nicholas, who was known as Nicholas of Myra in his lifetime, was a real historical Christian scholar who was born and lived in Greek Anatolia, an area that is now a part of modern-day Turkey.
At the time of St. Nicholas’ birth in 270 A.D., this region was a part of the Roman Empire. Nicholas was an essential participant in the effort to establish Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire, joining with bishops around the empire in 325 A.D., at the behest of Emperor Constantine, to codify many elements of the burgeoning religion.
Nicholas of Myra was known to be both wealthy and very generous, traits that inspired the story of Santa Claus giving presents to children.
He died and was buried in the city of Myra, in Anatolia, but it is believed that his remains were stolen by sailors from the Italian city of Bari, and transported back there. Other relics of body parts that are believed to have belonged to him are held in Venice.
However, the discovery of an undisturbed tomb that is believed to have been for Nicholas has raised doubts that his body ever left the region.
The specific relic tested belonged to a private collector, father Dennis O’Neill, of St Martha of Bethany Church, in Illinois.
Dr. Georges Kazan, co-director of the Oxford Relics Cluster, said, “These results encourage us to now turn to the Bari and Venice relics to attempt to show that the bone remains are from the same individual.”
They hope to use radiocarbon and palaeogenomics to test whether the bones came from the same person.
“It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine,” Kazan said.
With all these tests, we could finally discover which of these relics truly belonged to historic figures, and from that information, more about the lives of early Christians.