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700-year-old ring bearing the image of St. Nicholas discovered by a gardener in Israel

700-year-old ring bearing the image of St. Nicholas discovered by a gardener in Israel

Gardener Dekel Ben-Shitrit with the ring he found. Photo: Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority

A rare impressive, 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 the beloved, gift-giving Christmas figure of Santa Claus. To date, there is no comparable ring in the Israel Antiquities Authority 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.” Ben-Shitrit, who lives in Kibbutz Hazorea, posted a photograph of the ring on Facebook, hoping to get some 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.

The ring, dating from the 12th–15th centuries, was examined by Dr. Yana Tchekhanovetz, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist specializing in the Byzantine period. “This special ring is amazingly well preserved and will contribute a great deal to science. 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. 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 and to give gifts in secret. In the Western Christian world, his image evolved into white-bearded Santa Claus, the gift-giver of Christmas Eve.

The ring. Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Moshav Hayogev is located in the eastern Jezreel Valley, east of Tel Megiddo and settlements from the Roman and Byzantine period at nearby Legio. According to Dr. Yotam Tepper, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist and expert on Roman roads: “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.”

Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority anti-theft inspector, who received the ring from Ben-Shitrit to place it in the National Treasures Collection, had high praise for the gardener: “We thank Ben-Shitrit for handing over this special artifact to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and we encourage others to do the same, When they do, they enrich and deepen archaeological understanding of the past that belongs to all of us. The Israel Antiquities Authority will be awarding Ben-Shitrit a good citizenship certificate in thanks for his action.”

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