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The ring found by gardener Dekel Ben-Shitrit thought to depict St. Nicholas with a bishop's crook.

Medieval Ring Unearthed in the Shadow of Armageddon

A rare 700-year-old bronze ring bearing a tiny image of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of pilgrims and travelers, was dug up in a routine weeding exercise in northern Israel.

Gardener Dekel Ben-Shitrit who discovered the ancient artifact told reporters at Haaratz “I rubbed it slightly and I saw it was carved with a human image inside a frame.” As to how it got here, specialists suspect that it was “dropped by a medieval-era pilgrim making his or way to the Galilee in Israel’s north.”

Ben-Shitrit’s neighbor in a kibbutz in northern Israel, Dror Ben-Yosef, is the director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s Lower Galilee Education Center, and the Haaratz report said that as soon as he saw the ring he knew it was rare and valuable so “he put Ben-Shitrit in touch with the Israel Antiquities Authority.”

Gardener Dekel Ben-Shitrit with the ring he found while weeding. (Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Gardener Dekel Ben-Shitrit with the ring he found while weeding. (Nir Distelfeld, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The ring was dated to between the Crusader and Mameluke periods — from the 12th to the 15 centuries and IAA archaeologist Yana Tchekhanovetz, who specializes in the Byzantine period, told reporters at Times of Israel “it was amazingly well preserved and will contribute a great deal to science.”

The ring is decorated with a smiling bald man holding a bishop’s crook, which specialists identified as being hallmarks of St. Nicholas. Tchekhanovetz told reporters “It is probable that the ring belonged to a pilgrim who sought the protection of St. Nicholas on his travels.” In Eastern Christianity, St. Nicholas was considered the patron saint of travel, including of pilgrims and sailors and in Western Christianity, the “compassionate and giving” St Nicholas world turn into Santa Claus.

The medieval St Nicholas ring with its impression in clay. (Youtube Screenshot)

The medieval St Nicholas ring with its impression in clay. ( Youtube Screenshot )

Speaking of “where” the ring was discovered Yotam Tepper, an IAA archaeologist who specializes in Roman roads, told reporters at Haaretz,“We know that the main Roman road from Legio [near Tel Megiddo] 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.”

Armageddon

You must be asking yourself by this stage, what on earth this all has to do with “the Shadow of Armageddon” in the headline? Well, only 6 miles from where Ben-Shitrit dug up the ring is a very ancient place of immense historic, geographic and theologic importance - Tel Migiddo. Excavations have unearthed 26 layers of ruins, indicating an extremely long period of settlement and this was a very important Canaanite city-state during the Bronze Age, and during the Iron Age it was a royal city in the Kingdom of Israel.

Strategically located at the northern end of the Wadi Ara defile, overlooking the rich Jezreel Valley to the west and guarding the pass through the Carmel Ridge, Megiddo was known to Greeks as “Armageddon.” Even today, many Christians believe this site to be where the final battle between Jesus Christ and the kings of the Earth who go to war against Israel, as outlined in the Book of Revelation, will occur.

Megiddo, or Tel Megiddo, is the site of an ancient city in northern Israel's Jezreel Valley.

Megiddo, or Tel Megiddo, is the site of an ancient city in northern Israel's Jezreel Valley. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

There is no arguing Ben-Shitrit’s chance discovery of the 700-year old bronze ring is of great archaeological value, but this is not the first ancient ring to be unearthed in these parts. In 2012 Israel International News reported that “Archaeologists have discovered a collection of ancient jewelry hidden in a vessel at Tel Megiddo dated from about 1100 BCE, and one of the pieces is an ornate gold ring “without parallel,” according to Tel Aviv University's Professor Israel Finkelstein. Some of this jewelry originated in Egypt and the hoard also included “a number of moon-shaped earrings of common Canaanite origin, as well as many gold items and a number of carnelian beads, common in Egyptian jewelry of the period.”

In an area that has seen so many invasions and wars I suppose it of little surprise that we find so much jewelry buried just beneath the top soil in this region. Seeing the horizon darkened with the spears of 10 thousand of “the other side” seems to have inspired people to quickly bury their valuables beneath their floors in the dream that they might one day return home. One thing was a certainty, if they were captured, the ring would be lost forever.

For his lucky archaeological discovery, and being honest enough to come forward with it, Ben-Shitrit will receive the gift of an IAA good citizenship certificate, according to a Times of Israel report.

Top image: The ring found by gardener Dekel Ben-Shitrit thought to depict St. Nicholas with a bishop's crook. Source: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

By Ashley Cowie

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