MANILA — Archaeologists from the University of Oxford have confirmed that a bone fragment believed to have been taken from the pelvis of St. Nicholas was dated to 4th century, right at the time the saint died, which was 343 A.D.
They have come closer to answer the question posed by Virginia: Is there a Santa Claus?
Using a micro-sample of bone fragment, Prof. Tom Higham and Dr. Georges Kazan, directors of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Center, tested one of these bones, which came from Fr. Dennis O’Neill of St. Martha of Bethany Church, Shrine of All Saints in Morton Grove in Illinois.
The relic came from Lyon, France but most of the bones believed to be those of the Orthodox Saint Nicholas are still preserved in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy, where Italian merchants brought them, with about 500 fragments still kept in the Chiesa di San Nicolo al Lido in Venice.
Fr. O’Neill acquired his collection over many years, mainly from churches and private owners in Europe and includes a relatively large pelvic bone fragment believed to be a relic of St Nicholas.
The Bari collection does not include the full pelvis, only the left ilium from the upper part of the bone while O’Neil’s relic comes from the left pubis or the lower part of the bone, suggesting strongly that both bone fragments could have come from the skeletal remains of the same person.
Prof. Higham was amazed that the fragment could be, in principle, from the remains of St. Nicholas based on the carbon dating result.
By testing the other fragments in Venice and Bari, the archaeologists could find out if they all came from the remains of St. Nicholas.
“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,” the professor 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,” said Dr. Kazan.
St. Nicholas was thought to have been a generous and wealthy man who lived in Myra, Asia Minor, which is now part of Turkey, and he inspired the story about Father Christmas, the same man who spreads joy on Christmas.
Tradition has it that he was persecuted by the Emperor Diocletian and died in Myra, where his remains were venerated until Italian merchants took his bones to 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,” said Dr. Kazan
Moreover, an anatomical study actually concluded the bone fragments in then other locations were complementary to the Bari collection, ScienceDaily said in its December 5, 2017 issue, suggesting that both sets of relics could originate from the same individual.
The O’Neill relic, which has been venerated for nearly 1700 years, is one of the oldest relics that the Oxford team has ever analyzed.
“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,” Kazan stressed.
On the authenticity of the relic itself, Prof. Higham stressed: “Science is not able to definitely prove that it is, it can only prove that it is not, however.”
By doing so, he harks back to the falsifiability principle promoted by Karl Popper and the Vienna School of logical positivism.
Science Daily said that in the 16th century, stories about St Nicholas spread far and wide and the legend of Father Christmas entranced the world.
In the Netherlands and several European countries, December 6 is celebrated as St. Nicholas Feast Day.
On the eve of the feast, children leave out clogs and shoes to be filled with presents.