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August 3rd, 2010
01:49 PM ET

Remains of John the Baptist found in Bulgaria?

John the Baptist, right, as depicted in this 14th century painting at the National Gallery, London

Archaeologists in Bulgaria claim they have found remains of John the Baptist while excavating the site of a 5th century monastery on the Black Sea island of Sveti Ivan.

A reliquary – a container for holy relics – discovered last week under the monastery’s basilica was opened on Sunday and found to contain bone fragments of a skull, a hand and a tooth, Bulgaria’s official news agency BTA reported.

Excavation leader Kazimir Popkonstantinov lifted the reliquary’s lid in a ceremony in the coastal town of Sozopol attended by dignitaries including the Bishop of Sliven, Yoanikii, and Bozhidar Dimitrov, a government minister and director of Bulgaria’s National History Museum, BTA said.

Further tests on the fragments are due to be carried out. But Popkonstantinov is convinced the relics belong to John the Baptist because of a Greek inscription on the reliquary referring to June 24, the date when Christians celebrate John the Baptist’s birth, according to the website of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

A later monastery on the island, built in the 11th century, was dedicated to John the Baptist – "Sveti Ivan" means "St. John" in Bulgarian and other Slavic languages. Popkonstantinov told Bulgarian news agency Focus that it was possible the earlier basilica was also dedicated to the saint.

Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of the Vatican Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, told CNN that the commission "will wait until a more thorough study has been conducted, including anthropological analysis, before it will express an opinion on the finding."

Bisconti also said there are thousands of alleged relics of John the Baptist scattered around the world. He said the pontifical commission has not been contacted by the Bulgarian archaeologists, and that it normally does not get involved in the sacred archaeology studies carried outside of Italy.

Christians believe John the Baptist heralded the arrival of Christ and baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. According to the Gospels, John was put to death by beheading on the orders of the local ruler, Herod Antipas. He is considered a particularly significant figure in the Orthodox Church.

The newly discovered reliquary is made of alabaster and dates from approximately the middle of the 5th century, Popkonstantinov told reporters. The southern Black Sea coast was then part of the Byzantine Empire, ruled from Byzantium, now Istanbul in Turkey.

Popkonstantinov told Focus the reliquary was the first to be discovered in the region.

Dimitrov told Focus the relics may once have been donated to the monastery by the Byzantine church. The Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul is one of several sites claiming to house relics purported to be those of John the Baptist.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity

soundoff (1,093 Responses)
  1. http://sunworldholidayrentals.blogspot.com

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    May 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  2. Jason

    As a Christian we do not have all of the answers, but neither do the Athiest or our scientists. Why cant we all just resspect each others opinion instead of blasting facts we read off of the internet! The simple fact that Anthiests visits this blog and leaves confrontational comments suggests that they are looking for answers. We are all looking for answers, we are all not so different.

    August 27, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  3. iluvob

    Praise the Lord toall christians and non christians , and the atheist. If you don't believe in Jesus that's your loss because in spite how you feel EVERY KNEE WILL BOW AND EVERY TONGE CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD make no mistake I'd rather risk beleiving there is a true and living God than to not believe and be banished to hell. to the non-believer why take that chance and lose?If your confused pick what right and good the wicked and evil and bad always get what's coming to them PAIN and AGONY always that's why there's DEATH ROW . God Bless YOU read ACTS 2:38

    August 25, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • Fennanigans

      that's dumb. if you believe in god because 'if i don't, and i'm wrong, i'm going to hell', then you don't really believe in god, you are just hedging your bets.
      anyway, i believe in god, and like abraham, moses, noah, etc. jesus was one of his prohphets. i don't believe that he is god,or the son of god. just a prophet. why pray to jesus when i can pray straight to god? and what sense does it make to say if you believe in god and are a good person, but don't believe jesus is god too, you go to hell? there's only one god, and jesus was (one of) his messengers.

      August 27, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  4. Will

    @ Christfollower. Good witness there! ... /sarcastic post ended

    August 25, 2010 at 2:21 am |
  5. liiifiswhtumakit

    people suck. lol

    August 23, 2010 at 7:43 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.