Orthodox Christian faithful held a religious service Wednesday in Demre, the hometown, known then as Myra, of St. Nicholas, the Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus, on the anniversary of his 1,674 years ago.
Due to his associations with Christmas, numerous churches around the world claim to have bones belonging to Saint Nicholas, bringing into doubt whether these bones are all from the same person. And if so, could that person truly be Saint Nicholas? The results suggest the remains are indeed from the time of the saint's death, roughly 343 AD.
The relic, a piece of pelvis bone, is owned by Father Dennis O'Neill, from IL, and has been tested by researchers at the University of Oxford to establish its age.
"Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest", says Tom Higham, one of the Oxford researcher's working with the bones.
'This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself'.
From what we can gather from historical texts, he was born in Patara in Asia Minor, now Turkey, on March 15 270. Tales of his generosity spread when, according to one of many legends, St. Nicholas tossed bags of gold through the open window of a household with three daughters who could not afford a dowry to be married. Some believe he was persecuted by Emperor Diocletian.
He spent his early adulthood travelling round Egypt and Palestine before returning to become the Bishop of Myra. Over the centuries, the legend of Saint Nick grew.
Popular stories about Saint Nicholas served as an inspiration for the legend of Father Christmas in the 16th century.
Though most of the saint's bones remain inside the Bari crypt, the skeleton is not complete.
Even more interestingly, this collection of bones in Italy does not include a pelvis.
'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", Georges Kazan, another Oxford researcher, said in the statement.
Until recently, holders of the relics have resisted testing. The relic originally came from Lyon in France.
The Santa Claus Museum, formerly an ancient church with a sarcophagus attributed to the Christmas saint is also located in the town of Demre.
While this may still not prove that the bone, a pelvis fragment, is that of St Nicholas, it is the first test performed on the relic and takes researchers from the University of Oxford a step closer in positively identifying the remains.