Researchers from the University of Oxford found a bone believed to be from the Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus. St. Nicholas is believed to have died around A.D. 343. The researchers radiocarbon dated the bone, a fragment from the pelvis, and it is the correct age, the university said in apress release.
Despite the bone dating to the same time period, scientists cannot unequivocally conclude the fragment belonged to Father Christmas, but it is closer than they’ve come before.
“Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest,” said Professor Tom Higham, director of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre. “This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St. Nicholas himself.”
The saint’s bones have been held in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy since 1087. They are buried beneath a marble altar in a crypt. Other bones are preserved in the Chiesa di San Nicolo al Lido in Venice. Higham and Dr. Georges Kazan, another director the Oxford Relics Cluster, tested a bone owned by Father Dennis O’Neill, housed at the Shrine of All Saints at St. Martha of Bethany Church in Morton Grove, Illinois. The relic originally came from Lyon, France, according to the university.
This fragment is from the lower part of the pelvic bone. The collection in Bari contains only the upper part of the pelvic bone, suggesting both pieces could be from the same person. The relics in Venice consist of 500 bone fragments, which were analyzed and concluded to be complementary of those contained in Bari.
“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. We can do this using ancient palaeogenomics, or DNA testing. It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine,” Kazan said.
The saint who inspired Santa Claus lived in the ancient Greek town of Myra, now the present-day city of Kale in Turkey. St. Nicholas was known for his generosity, which inspired the legend of man with eight reindeer who lives at the North Pole as a bearer of gifts on Christmas day. He is believed to have died in Myra, having been persecuted by Emperor Diocletian, but the majority of his bones were transported to Bari by a group of Italian sailors.