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Fourth century bone ‘may belong to Santa’

Bone fragment
Image: The bone fragment has been tested by researchers at the University of Oxford to establish its age

A fragment of bone said to belong to the man who inspired the figure of Father Christmas could really be from the saint, scientists say.

The relic, a piece of pelvis bone, is owned by Father Dennis O’Neill, from Illinois, and has been tested by researchers at the University of Oxford to establish its age.

Rather than finding it’s significantly younger than early estimations, the radiocarbon testing dates the piece to the fourth century AD, close to when Saint Nicholas died in 343 AD.

The team at the university cannot prove for certain it is the saint, but they can pinpoint the era it is from.

The bone fragment purporting to be from St Nicholas could actually be one of the saint's.
Image: The fragment could be from St Nicholas

Professor Tom Higham, director of the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre, said: “Many relics that we study turn out to date to a period somewhat later than the historic attestation would suggest.

“This bone fragment, in contrast, suggests that we could possibly be looking at remains from St Nicholas himself.

“Science is not able to definitely prove that it is, it can only prove that it is not, however.”

St Nicholas is one of the most revered Christian saints, and is thought to have lived in Myra, which is now Turkey.

He was said to be a wealthy man who was known for his generosity, which inspired the story of Father Christmas bringing presents to children on Christmas Eve.

St Nicholas is said to have inspired the figure of Father Christmas
Image: St Nicholas is said to have inspired the figure of Father Christmas

Most of his remains are in the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy, and though they have been there since 1087, several churches around the world have acquired some of the fragments.

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Dr Georges Kazan, another director at the Oxford Relics Cluster, said the results would encourage them to test other relics from Bari and Venice, to show if they are the same person.

He added: “It is exciting to think that these relics, which date from such an ancient time, could in fact be genuine.”

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    Heinz-Christian Strache
    Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

    Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

    The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

    The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

    Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

    When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

    The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

    “Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Sebastian Kurz says he wants to increase security and combat illegal immigraton

    Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

    “We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

    Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

    While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

    The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

    Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

    Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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    The FPO’s success mirrors that of similar parties across Europe. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is now the second-largest in the Netherlands, the Front National in France was involved in a run-off for the presidency in May and representatives from Germany’s AfD have entered the Bundestag.

    When the FPO was last in government, under the late Joerg Haider, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest.

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