700-year-old ring with the image of St. Nicholas unearthed in Israel

Byzantine-era antiquity discovered by a gardener in Jezreel Valley community of Moshav Yogev.

February 26, 2018 11:00
2 minute read.

Discovery of Santa Claus ancient ring in Israel (Israle Antiquities Authority)

Discovery of Santa Claus ancient ring in Israel (Israle Antiquities Authority)

A rare, intact bronze ring from the Middle Ages bearing the image of St. Nicholas was discovered by chance during recent landscaping work in the garden of a home in the Jezreel Valley community of Moshav Yogev.

St. Nicholas is best known as the source of Santa Claus, the beloved, jolly, gift-giving Christmas personality..

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The 700-year-old ring with the face of St. Nicholas that was found. / CLARA AMIT ISRAELI ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

To date, there is no comparable ring in the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) National Treasure Department.

Gardener Dekel Ben-Shitrit, 26, was weeding on Thursday when his eye caught an object among the plants. He picked it up and noticed it had a human figure on it.

“I rubbed it slightly and I saw it was carved with a human image inside a frame,” he said.

Ben-Shitrit, who lives in Kibbutz Hazorea, posted a photograph of the ring on Facebook, hoping to elicit more information about it. His neighbor on the kibbutz, Dr. Dror Ben-Yosef, director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s Lower Galilee Education Center, saw it and connected Ben-Shitrit with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to authority archeologist Dr. Yana Tchekhanovetz, who specializes in the Byzantine period, the ring dates back to the 12th-15th centuries.

“This special ring is amazingly well preserved and will contribute a great deal to science,” said Tchekhanovetz.

“On the ring is the image of a bald man with a staff next to him. On preliminary examination, this seems to be St. Nicholas holding a bishop’s crook – his hallmark. In the Eastern Christian world, St. Nicholas is considered the patron saint of travelers, including pilgrims and sailors,” she said.

“And so, Christian pilgrims to the Land of Israel from all over the Byzantine Empire [Turkey, the Balkans, Greece and present-day Russia] would carry his icon to protect them from harm. It is probable that the ring belonged to a pilgrim who sought the protection of St. Nicholas on his travels.”

St. Nicholas, Tchekhanovetz added, was believed to be a miracle worker who gave gifts in secret. In the Western Christian world, his image evolved into white-bearded Santa Claus, the gift-giver of Christmas Eve.

Moshav Hayogev is located in the eastern Jezreel Valley, east of Tel Megiddo and settlements from the Roman and Byzantine period at nearby Legio.

“We know that the main Roman road from Legio to Mount Tabor passed next to Moshav Yogev, and the road must also have been used throughout the centuries by Christian pilgrims on their way to the sites on Mount Tabor, Nazareth and around the Sea of Galilee,” said IAA archeologist Dr. Yotam Tepper, an expert on Roman roads.

Nir Distelfeld, the IAA’s anti-theft inspector, received the ring from Ben-Shitrit to put it into the National Treasures Collection. He praised the gardener for his honesty.

“We thank Ben-Shitrit for handing over this special artifact to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and we encourage others to do the same,” said Distelfeld.

“When [people do this,] they enrich and deepen archeological understanding of the past that belongs to all of us.”

Distelfeld said the authority will award Ben-Shitrit a good-citizenship certificate in appreciation of his good deed.

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