Dec 08, 2017 I Brett Tingley

‘Santa’s’ Bone Fragment Dated to Time of Real-Life Saint Nicholas

For many of us, one of life’s earliest crushing defeats is hearing from one of your peers that Santa Claus might not be real. Sure, you tried to tell yourself that it was only your schoolyard frenemy Kevin likely trying to make you cry in front of Suzie Rosenberg, but you had had your doubts for years. Once that doubt creeps in, it’s all downhill from there. Soon after you realize most of your childhood heroes are merely figments of the collective unconscious and the cash-hungry corporate imagination: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns, Michael Jackson. Eventually, you reach some level of solace as you come to understand that although the modern iterations of these fantastical and sometimes god-like deities have been reduced to mylar balloons and holiday candy (and another thing: why do we eat chocolate effigies of Santa and the Easter Bunny anyway?), many of them actually do have their roots in ancient beliefs or mythical figures. I mean, we all know Michael Jackson was a mummy whose reincarnation charm wore off slowly in front of our eyes, right? Dude’s nose fell right off.

mj mummy
You see it, right?

For his jolly old part, Santa Claus is an amalgamation of historical figures and mythical beings from English and Dutch folklore, and most principally Saint Nicholas from the ancient Greek Catholic Church. Saint Nicholas is believed to have born in the year 270 to wealthy parents who died when he was young, and Nicholas is said to have spent his life giving away his inheritance and generally helping the poor. He was eventually made Bishop of Myra, a Christian community in what is now Turkey, and is recognized as a Saint for his many acts of devotion to the faith, the church, and the poor. Saint Nicholas is even said to have been fond of giving secret gifts.

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Red suit sold separately.

Earlier this year, archaeologists found a tomb believed to be the resting place of Saint Nicholas under the St. Nicholas Church in Turkey’s Antalya province. Who knew? However, the Basilica di San Nicola in Italy claims to have also held at least some of Saint Nick’s remains since 1087 since they were essentially stolen by a group of Italian sailors who feared the invading Seljuk Turks might bar access the St. Nicholas Church. Just this month, two Oxford historians tested a sample of a bone fragment from these remains, and their study might just prove that the bones might be the mortal remnants of jolly old St. Nick himself. Well, at least his historical antecedent. Close enough right?

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Is that really you, Santa? (Image Credit: T. Higham & G. Kazan)

The bone appears to be part of the lower left hip, while a similar fragment in the Saint Nicholas Church in Turkey seems to be from the upper left hip. That leads Oxford archaeologist Dr. Georges Kazan to believe that these two fragments just might be from the same person:

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.

While far from being conclusive proof that it was Santa and not my parents who got me that Crossfire board game like you kept assuring Kevin, if the bones in Italy and the bones in Turkey are from the same person, that at least confirms part of the Saint Nicholas legend. It might not be reindeer prints on a 3rd-century Turkish roofing tile, but it’s a start.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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