Rare Byzantine-Period Ring Uncovered in Israel

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A 700-year-old bronze ring engraved with a portrait of St. Nicholas — the 4th century Orthodox Christian saint who inspired the iconography of Santa Claus — has been discovered by a gardener in northern Israel.

The 700-year-old bronze ring depicts St. Nicholas. Image credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The 700-year-old bronze ring depicts St. Nicholas. Image credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.

“I was weeding on February 22 when my eyes caught an object among the plants,” said Mr. Dekel Ben-Shitrit, who lives in Kibbutz Hazorea in the Jezreel Valley community of Moshav Hayogev.

“I picked it up and noticed it had a human figure on it. I rubbed it slightly and saw it was carved with a human image inside a frame.”

The bronze ring, dating from the 12th-15th centuries CE, was examined by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yana Tchekhanovetz.

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

“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 explained.

“And so Christian pilgrims to the Land of Israel from all over the Byzantine Empire 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,” she added.

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 Dr. Yotam Tepper, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority.