As many Christians around the world celebrated the Feast of Saint Nicholas on Wednesday, a group of researchers have found evidence that strongly suggests the inspiration for Santa Claus was a real man.
The Oxford University researchers analyzed a bone fragment from what was believed to be the pelvis of Saint Nicholas. Their tests concluded the bone came from someone who died in the 4th century—Nicholas died in 343 AD in what is now known as Turkey.
Oxford Relics Center Co-Director Tom Higham told Agence France Presse:
"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 bone from which the fragment came is missing in the bone “relics” stored in the Italian city of Bari, further suggesting they came from the same person. A further analysis of bone fragments in Venice also found them to be “complimentary,” meaning they also likely came from the same person.
During the Crusades, the “relics” of many early Church leaders were moved to Italy to bring them closer to European Christians who frequently made pilgrimages to see them.
Saint Nicholas was an Orthodox Christian missionary who participated in the First Council of Nicaea and signed the Nicene Creed. Early Church tradition says he became so enraged by a heretic who spoke out during the council that he struck him in the face.
He also was widely known for his generosity, which became the inspiration for Santa Claus 1,200 years after his death.