JERUSALEM, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) -- A rare, 700-year-old ring bearing the image of St. Nicolas, popularly known as Santa Claus, has been discovered by a gardener in northern Israel, the country's Antiquities Authority said on Monday.
A statement released by the Antiquities Authority described the ring as an "impressive, intact bronze ring from the Middle Ages." The seal-ring bears an 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," according to Dr. Yana Tchekhanovetz, an archaeologist with the Antiquities Authority and an expert on the Byzantine period. "The ring probably belonged to a pilgrim who sought protection from St. Nicholas on his travels."
St. Nicholas was the patron saint of travelers in the Eastern Christian world. Pilgrims to the Holy Land from the Byzantine Empire - which included Turkey, the Balkans, Greece and present-day Russia - would carry his icon to protect them from harm, Tchekhanovetz said.
It is the first ring with the image of St. Nicolas to be discovered in Israel.
The unusual artifact was found by Dekel Ben-Shitrit, 26, as he was weeding a plot in HaYogev, a community in the Jezreel Valley, on Thursday.
He posted a photograph of the ring on Facebook, hoping to get some information about it. His neighbor then helped him contact with researchers from the Antiquities Authority.
According to Yotam Tepper, an expert on Roman roads, "the main Roman road from Legio to Mount Tabor passed next to Ha'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."