It should come as no surprise that this is typically the time of year when people tend to pay more attention to St. Nicholas, the man credited with inspiring the Santa Claus tradition.
But this year there’s even more reason to tune in to the St. Nicholas discussion, as experts at the University of Oxford recently tested a bone fragment that is believed by some to belong to the saint — and their findings are absolutely rare and fascinating.
Professor Tom Higham and Dr. Georges Kazan found through radiocarbon dating that the bone dates back to the 4th century A.D. That’s a notable find, as various experts believe that St. Nicholas died in 343 A.D., leading some to wonder if, indeed, the bones belong to the popular saint, Oxford reported.
Adding to that intrigue, Higham said that it is in fact quite rare for the dating to line up with tradition when it comes to relics.
“Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest,” the professor said. “This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself.”
But Higman did caution that science has its limitations when it comes to verifying the bones’ authenticity.
“Science is not able to definitely prove that it is,” he said. “It can only prove that it is not, however.”
Kazan added that the piece of bone that was studied will be compared to other bones that are said to purportedly belong to St. Nicholas to see if they are, indeed, from the same individual.
This process will use “ancient palaeogenomics, or DNA testing, he said, adding that the entire process is an exciting one.
St. Nicholas is without a doubt one of the most popular saints and was likely a bishop in Myra, an ancient Greek town. He was apparently known for his generosity, hence the Santa gift-giving tradition.
“Obeying Jesus’ words to ‘sell what you own and give the money to the poor,’ Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering,” reads an explainer from the St. Nicholas Center. “He dedicated his life to serving God.”