Have John the Baptist's Bones Been Found in Bulgaria?
*Theunis Bates* Contributor
(Aug. 4) -- Archaeologists in Bulgaria claimed to have located a
sarcophagus containing the bones of John the Baptist, drawing enthusiasm
from politicians but doubts from some experts.
An ancient alabaster reliquary, a box for relics, was found embedded in an
altar at the ruins of a fifth-century monastery on the tiny Black Sea island
of Sveti Ivan<http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&q=st%20ivan%20island&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl
On Sunday, the excavation's leader, Kazimir Popkonstantinov, carefully pried
open the miniature casket at a ceremony attended by local government figures
and an Eastern Orthodox bishop in the nearby coastal town of Sozopol.
Inside, researchers found parts of a cranium, tooth and arm bone, according
to Bulgarian news agency Novinite. Further tests are now being carried out
on the remains, and the country's culture minister, Vezhdi Rashidov,
declared that people should wait for results before making "emotional
statements" about the identity of the bones' original owner.
But Popkonstantinov is convinced that the fragments belong to Jesus'
baptizer, largely because a Greek inscription on the 8-inch-long,
4-inch-high and 4-inch-wide reliquary mentions June 24, the date Orthodox
and Catholic Christians celebrate John the Baptist's birth.
According to Bozhidar Dimitrov, former director of the country's National
History Museum and now diaspora minister, that inscription goes on to detail
how the bones ended up on the Black Sea isle.
"[It says that] some time in the fifth century a man named Toma transferred
the holy relics exactly on the birthday of St. John the Forerunner," he told
Kazimir Popkonstantinov ... is a rare and lucky man. It is very seldom that
one would find an inscription, and in archaeology the inscription is
considered the most authentic proof."
Dimitrov added that he believed church leaders in Constantinople -- now
Istanbul, but then the capital of the vast Byzantine Empire -- donated the
relics, as many of the city's patriarchs started their religious careers at
the island monastery.
Other clues to the body parts' owner lie in the island's name, Sveti Ivan,
which means Saint John in Bulgarian and other Slavic languages. The rocky
outcrop acquired that name in the 11th century when a new monastery was
built and dedicated to John the Baptist. But Popkonstantinov told news
agency Focus <http://www.focus-fen.net/index.php?id=f2370
> that it was
possible the earlier, fifth-century basilica -- abandoned between the
seventh and ninth centuries -- "could also have been dedicated to Saint
Certainly, the monks who originally inhabited the isle must have believed
that the remains belonged to an important Christian figure or they would
have never housed them in the altar, a place of real honor. And John the
Baptist is considered an especially important saint by the Eastern Orthodox
Church, which regards him as the last of the Old Testament prophets before
the coming of Jesus.
Some experts, however, have cast doubt on the find, noting that since John
was first buried in northern Israel around 36 A.D., dozens of sites around
the world have claimed possession of significant chunks of his corpse. For
example, Damascus' Umayyad
once a Christian church, says it has the holy man's head, but Munich's Residenz
argues it owns the divine brain box -- famously chopped off by King Herod at
Salome's request -- which it displays on a pearl-lined pillow.
Bulgaria now plans a similarly grand setting for its own bones. On Thursday,
they'll be installed at Sozopol's Church of Saint George -- also home to a
(supposed) piece of the cross Jesus was crucified on, and relics of St.
Andrew -- after being paraded through the town's streets. Dimitrov, a
Sozopol resident, told Focus he hoped this new relic would make the
town a "second
>" and lead to a surge in
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