Examination of a Relic

Bone fragment
Bone fragment tested in Oxford
Photo: Press Association

A relic identified as St. Nicholas, held by the Shrine of All Saints in St. Martha of Bethany Church, Morton Grove, Illinois, USA, has been radiocarbon tested by researchers at Oxford University. The priest acquired the bone in Lyon, France.

Results indicate that the bone is from a person who lived in the 4th century. AD 343 is the time given for St. Nicholas' death.The investigation was done by the Oxford Relics Cluster, Keble College Advanced Studies Centre. in Oxford, England. Professor Tom Higham and Dr Georges Kazan are the directors of the Cluster.

Professor Higham said, "Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest. This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St. Nicholas himself."

Most of St. Nicholas' bones were brought to Bari, Italy, in 1057 from Myra, Lycia in Asia Minor. Around 500 smaller chips and fragments were taken from there to the Lido of Venice in 1099.

The bone just tested is a pelvic bone, from the the left pubis. Bari has the left ilium (the upper part of the bone), but not the full pelvis. Venice also has fragments of pelvic bones. This newly tested bone, from the lower part of the bone, is believed to very possibly belong to the same skeleton as the Bari and Venice bones.

Professor Tom Higham, left, and Dr Georges Kazan of the Oxford Relics Cluster, Keble College Advanced Studies Centre, Oxford, England
Photo: The Independent

Dr Kazan 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. 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."

The relics in Venice consist of as many as 500 fragments and anatomical study has suggested that, being complementary to the Bari bones, both sets could be from the same person. 

The archaeologists' work shows that the bone has been venerated for nearly 1700 years, therefore one of the oldest relics the Oxford group has analyzed.

As radio carbon-dating has advanced, it has made it possible to study ancient relics in ways that would not have been possible before. Dr Kazan continued, "Where once we needed physical portions of a bone sample, we can now test milligram size, micro-samples—opening up a new world of archaeological study."

Professor Higham said that nothing has yet been confirmed, "Science is not able to definitely prove that it is, it can only prove that it is not, however."

"'Santa's bone' proved to be correct age" by Seran Coughlan, BBC News, December 6, 2017
"Santa's ancient bone owned by U.S. priest confirmed to be right age for saint Nicholas life" by Sofia Lotto Persio, Newsweek, December 5, 2017
"Santa Claus no longer a myth! Analysis of ancient bones claims Father Christmas did exist" by Sanchalita Mullick, December 7, 2017, International Business Times.
"Santa Claus is REAL: Scientists confirm ancient bone fragment belonged to jolly old St Nicholas" by Ellie Cullen, December 6, 2017, The Mirror.
"Bone Analysis Takes Us One Step Further to Confirming the Santa Claus Legend by Alicia McDermott, Ancient Origins, December 8, 2017
"Bizarre Origins of 4th-Century 'Santa Claus Bone' Revealed" by Owen Jarus, LiveScience, December 8, 2017
"Are these bones proof 'Santa' was real? Remains may belong to the real-life St Nicholas," by Victoria Woollaston, Alphir Science, December 23, 2017.

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