Photo Credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority
The Santa Claus ring.

A rare and impressive medieval era bronze ring bearing the image of St. Nicholas was exposed by a gardener working in Moshav Yogev in Jezreel Valley last Thursday. This is the first time that a ring of this kind—estimated to be 700 years old—was discovered in Israel, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Last Thursday, while working in one of the gardens in Moshav Yogev, Dekel Ben-Shitrit, 26, spotted a ring in the weeds. Picking it up, he noted an engraved human figure on it. “I rubbed the ring lightly and saw a person’s figure carved into a frame,” he said.

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

Ben Shitrit, who lives on Kibbutz Hazorea, posted the ring’s image on Facebook in hopes of getting information about it. It so happened that his neighbor on the same kibbutz, Dr. Dror Ben Yosef, is the official in charge of the Northern District Heritage in the Nature and Parks Authority, and he linked Ben Shitrit with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The ancient ring, dated between the 12 – 15 centuries CE, was examined by archaeologist Dr. Yana Ciechanowicz, an expert on the Byzantine period at the IAA, who noted that “the state of preservation of the ring is outstanding, and research on the special object will contribute to science.”

The Santa Claus ring. / Photo credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

“The ring is carved with the figure of a bald man with a stick next to it,” she added, suggesting that “based on an initial examination, it appears to be St. Nicholas, holding a bishop’s staff, which is his hallmark.”

“In the Eastern Christian world, St. Nicholas was the patron of the travelers, including pilgrims and sailors,” Dr. Ciechanowicz explained. “Christian pilgrims who came to the Land of Israel from across the Byzantine Empire (Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, and even Russia) used to carry on their persons an icon of St. Nicholas, to protect them from harm. It is not inconceivable that the ring belonged to a pilgrim who also sought the protection of St. Nicholas.”

The IAA plans to award Shitrit with a certificate of gratitude for turning in his discovery.