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. Deserts Mystery

    These people have no clue what they are talking about... John the Baptist in Bulgaria lol this is very funy.... he was born in middle east and died there and I am pretty sure bulgaria is not in middle east... how the hack his remains got in bulgaria out of all the places in middle east lol

    August 4, 2010 at 1:58 am |
    • miguel

      There's an obelisk from Ptolemic Egypt standing in Paris. Obviously, the bones could have made their way to Bulgaria over a 400 year period. That said, we don't seem to have any evidence that that, in fact, took place.

      August 4, 2010 at 2:04 am |
    • Deserts Mystery

      I find it hard to believe because our jewish brothers where his enemies and I am sure they must have made sure his bones dont even survive

      August 4, 2010 at 2:08 am |
    • twerzian

      Bulgaria is on the ocean, they had boats back then.

      August 4, 2010 at 2:10 am |
    • miguel

      Deserts, the remains could have been found in the basement of a house in Brooklyn, New York, and the story would be just as incomplete. It's entirely *possible* that anything from the 1st century Holy Land could survive and find its way to Bulgaria.

      The question, though, with any single piece of material is WHAT WE HAVE EVIDENCE OF. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that these remains belonged to a John the Baptist.

      August 4, 2010 at 2:12 am |
    • Deserts Mystery

      Well that is true, I agree.... its funny because they dont seem to understand "rest in peace", they should leave the dead buried in the sand....

      August 4, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  2. Dave

    Not only did John not prophesy the birth of Christ..but...the Bible tells us that the daughter of Herodias, when asked what she wanted said that she wanted John's head on a platter. He was beheaded and the Bible tell us that, 'His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. (Then) John's disciples came and took his body and buried it.

    They buried his body...not his head, she had it. Now, as a born again Christian, I believe that God doesn't allow things like his body, the Ark etc etc because..he knows some would start worshipping it. Heck, they gather around and pray to water leaking through a wall that looks like a man, which, because of their superstition and wild imagination, somehow declare it to be a likeness of Jesus. Bologna! It's a reproach to the name of Christ to do these silly things!

    August 4, 2010 at 1:57 am |
  3. Randy

    Most of these comments are awful. None of you are mentioning the most obvious question here – if John the Baptist was executed by Herod in Israel, why would his remains end up in Bulgaria?

    August 4, 2010 at 1:57 am |
    • Manic Zorbian

      That omission wasn't lost on me.... that's why this isn't really a story that pertains to anything but Bulgarian church history.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:59 am |
    • miguel

      Randy, the article clearly states that the vessel and inscriptions associated with the remains are of a later period than one would associate with John the Baptist. The theory, I'm sure, is that the remains, treated as relics, have been carted around by migrating early Christians.

      That theory, of course, puts a lot of strain on any legitimate attempt to claim the bones as John's... which is where the skepticism comes in.

      August 4, 2010 at 2:01 am |
  4. Marlon

    Those who scoff at this story are the same folks who swallowed the "this lemur fossil is our ancestor" scam hook, line, and sinker.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:53 am |
    • miguel

      Marlon, who's "scoffing at the story?" I think there's plenty of reason (for Christian and non-Christian alike) to be skeptical of archeological claims like those made by the Bulgarian researchers. Perhaps you could enlighten me: how does one make the logical leap from concluding that remains touted by 5th century Bulgarians as those of John the Baptist to concluding that those remains are, in fact, those of a 1st century spiritualist from the Holy Land? Where's YOUR healthy skepticism?

      August 4, 2010 at 1:59 am |
    • Mishagothe

      I for one, am happy to claim lemur ancestry, they are cute.

      August 4, 2010 at 2:00 am |
    • Langkard

      Lemurs? Really?

      Here's a question for you, since you're obviously an evolution-hater. Why do manatees have the remnants of hooves much like the hooves of other ungulates, such as elephants and deer? Why do they have vestigial lower legs bones buried deep under their skin,.but no lower legs? What possible use could an animal which lives its entire life in the water have for hooves? Or did your god make a mistake? Or is it perhaps more likely that the manatee evolved from a former land-based animals and still retain those vestigial hooves since it hasn't been long enough for them to go completely away? At least try to think about it.

      August 4, 2010 at 5:40 am |
    • blue922

      Marion, you are assuming a Western / scientific slant to all non-fundamentalist Christian views who would consider this story to be fanciful at best. There are many views from the Hindus (who have an extremely long sense of history) to those who believe aliens played with out DNA. Just because someone does not believe dumb stories does not make them a lemur. 😉

      August 4, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  5. Non-Believers

    Hello Sylvia, I agree with your comments....people need to open there hearts and there eyes.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:52 am |
    • miguel

      Open their hearts and their eyes, that is, to the joy of reminding scores of strangers on an anonymous internet forum that they'll "rot in hell?" Charming and Christ-like indeed.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:55 am |
  6. Manic Zorbian

    "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."

    And as we all know the dates Christians celebrate their holidays are spot-on accurate. Take December 25th as Christ's birthday as an example. There's little or no chance that he was born on that date, and yet somehow it appears on my calendar every year marked as a holiday...yeah, right.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:51 am |
    • miguel

      It definitely is a strange story–makes one question that archaeology degree from that Bulgarian university, at least. (That was a waste of lev!)

      It would seem all the researchers have evidence of is that 5th century Baltic folk held the remains to be those of John the Baptist... which isn't the same thing, of course, as those remains being those of John the Baptist.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:54 am |
    • Manic Zorbian

      @ Miguel – Exactly... this article has little or nothing to do with Christianity, more to do with Bulgaria. If there were anything actually tying it to the biblical history in John the Baptist's time, it might be more interesting.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:57 am |
  7. John

    If carbon dating places these relics around 100CE, Christians are going to cite that as "proof" all the stories in the Bible are correct. When carbon dating says the Earth is more than 5,000 years old, Christians dismiss the technique as "not 100% accurate." Silly sheep!

    August 4, 2010 at 1:50 am |
    • me

      Don't be a Fool...one of the greatest lies is the evil doesn't exist. Come in to the fold before the wolf tells you he is friendly. Only the Good Shepard can protect his flocks.

      August 4, 2010 at 6:00 am |
    • Jim

      @me: You can make blanket statements all you like, but you present no proof that there is any reason to come to the shepherd. Is it because the bible told us? If the bible has no god-given authority why should anyone listen?

      Also, where did the previous poster say anything about "evil"? What has "one of the greatest lies is the evil doesn't exist" got to do with any of it? No one would seriously debate the existence, or lack thereof, of evil, it's foolish to even bring it up.

      August 4, 2010 at 7:28 am |
    • me

      @ Jim

      I am sorry you feel that way, but the post was a special message specifically for the previous person who posted. God Bless.

      August 4, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  8. OB1

    There was also a IPOD in the grave.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:48 am |
  9. Sylvia R. Hidalgo

    All I have to say is for all those idiots out there that don't believe in Christ....you will probably rot in hell.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:46 am |
    • miguel

      But you, Sylvia, with your generous and Christ-like attitude towards your fellow man, will obviously not. (Sarcasm).

      August 4, 2010 at 1:47 am |
    • John

      Hell was invented to scare people out of their money.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:52 am |
    • Manic Zorbian

      Another wonderful display of Christian love, folks!!!

      August 4, 2010 at 1:54 am |
    • GodIsBeautiful!!!


      August 4, 2010 at 1:56 am |
    • peace2all

      @Sylvia R. Hidalgo

      Not sure what your comment has to do with the assertion that they think they found the remains of John the baptist...

      But, actually..... we are all *rotting*(physically) right now. No need to wait to *rot in hell* for us so called non-believers.

      I wish you peace though.....

      August 4, 2010 at 1:59 am |
    • twerzian

      I've asked to be cremated so I don't think I'll rot.

      August 4, 2010 at 2:24 am |
    • Jim

      @ Sylvia R. Hidalgo

      Using your well developed faith you informed us that we'd "probably" rot in hell if we didn't believe... I guess even if we don't believe we still have a chance of not rotting in hell, so I'll take that as a positive.

      August 4, 2010 at 3:02 am |
    • blue922

      All ideologies ('this is the truth, we are right, everyone one else is wrong) and forms of fundamentalism from Islam, Christianity, Judiasm to Rush and Hannity's egoistic wallowed duality and fearmondering are toxic and do not help anyone.

      August 4, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      But he loves us right? Just want to be sure, as I am rotting eternally in hell apparently, that he loves us.

      Wasn't hel, single l, originally a norse belief anyway?

      August 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      If there is an all-powerful God and it is in charge of sending people to hell or not–your opinion on the matter is irrelevant.

      I don't believe in God. Deal with it.

      August 8, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  10. Dan, Houston, TX

    You must be kidding! What drivel does not pass as news these days? If the subjects of this article are archeologists, then the writer of this article is a journalist.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:43 am |
    • miguel

      Why so irate? It's a straightforward account of an archeological project. The fact that you have an opinion–in this case, the valid belief that these Bulgarian researchers are being silly–validates its worth as a piece of news.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:46 am |
    • Mekhong Kurt

      Dan, note that this is NOT a news story, but a blog entry. World of difference.

      August 5, 2010 at 6:53 am |
  11. RobertJ

    Even if carbon dating could place the age of the bone fragments at 2,000 years, what meaningful evidence is there of whose bones they were? Oh, wait! No evidence needed. It has been "revealed" to someone as absolute truth. Just like all the other "authentic" RCC relics that bring in tourists and their cash.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  12. james

    We are here after millions of years of evolution....thats it. No god, no angels etc. There were however alot of people wandering in sack cloth saying all sorts of things. It was a time people were fascinated with EVERYTHING !

    August 4, 2010 at 1:40 am |
    • blue922

      Hmmm.. James, I'm amazed that you were a witness to all of history and human evolution. No one knows how we got here as a species let alone how the universe came to be. The Hindus have alot written about that though, much more than anyone else.

      August 4, 2010 at 7:46 am |
    • Doug

      If it is true there is no god, no angels and then of course it is true that there is no such thing as gravity or joy as you cannot see them either. They don't exist just like james says because james says if you cannot see it, well then it does not exist. james is the absolute truth because james says it which makes it absolute so let's all follow james. If 2 + 2 = 4 everyone says it's 4 but james says it's 5 and if everyone says we will all be happier if it's 5 let's follow what james says because he says it's 5. So if james says don't believe in something that you cannot see don't believe it. Don't believe in love as you cannot see it. It's just a word but like an angel you can't see it. So don't believe in absolute love because james says there is no such thing and when you dies you will be eaten by worms because all that exists in james world is matter or the material. A Sad and lonely and BORING world.

      August 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'If it is true there is no god, no angels and then of course it is true that there is no such thing as gravity or joy as you cannot see them either'
      Ok thats a totally stupid argument. For starters gravity does not rely on magic or the supernatural to say how it works. Secondly the whole you cannot see it but know it exists is also a stupid comparison. He did not say that it does not exist if you cannot see it.
      And yes, like you, we will all end up as worm food. Thats the way it is.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Actually, we are more likely maggot food–which are larval flies-not worms. 😛

      August 8, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  13. miguel

    It would seem scientists have found remains that 5th century Baltic folk enjoyed touting as John the Baptist's. That's an interesting find, sure–but it's not the same as finding the remains of John the Baptist.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:39 am |
  14. GodIsBeautiful!!!

    Whether or not it is John the Baptist remains,i STILL believe in Jesus and his father who sent him. He is coming back,and coming back soon!

    August 4, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • peace2all


      Yes... and apparently, according to the article posted the other day on this CNN belief blog..... I believe someone stated May 21st of 2011... something like that .... so I guess we better get our houses in order because 'he is coming' and apparently soon.

      Is that right @GodIsBeautiful....?

      How soon exactly....? And how do you know...? Bible verses....?

      Please... I am very curious.....


      August 4, 2010 at 1:46 am |
    • GodIsBeautiful!!!

      This is what I believe in......I can not speak for anyone else,only for myself. So whether you believe it or not is your business. You believe in what or whomever you please,but this is what I believe in. Peace2You!

      August 4, 2010 at 1:55 am |
    • DangerMouse

      endorphins, oxygen intake, thalamus and hypothalamus, serotonin, adrenalin, and a host of other things affecting your perceptions are your earthly reward for giving up your higher brain functions, is my guess, but where are the studies being done on brain function during and after religious indoctrination?

      August 4, 2010 at 2:34 am |
    • Dawkins

      He's coming back because He didn't get it right the first time!

      August 4, 2010 at 3:54 am |
    • Langkard

      Millenarians and other confused eschatologists have been funny for... well, for millenia. 🙂

      August 4, 2010 at 5:25 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Whether or not it is John the Baptist remains,i STILL believe in Jesus and his father who sent him. He is coming back,and coming back soon!'
      Tell you what then. Put in your will that I will get your house when you die, regardless of whatever family you have, leave it to me. If you believe he is coming back soon then you won't mind leaving me your house in your will right?

      August 4, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  15. fmercury45

    And why do we care about this story?

    August 4, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • miguel

      You tell me. You've elected to read it (out of hundreds of possible articles) and, further, you've commented on it.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:40 am |
    • DangerMouse

      Ouch!...Wow...that's going to leave a mark....

      August 4, 2010 at 2:22 am |
    • Mekhong Kurt

      Well, no single story will interest every reader, true, though it is, as another has already said, a bit odd that you apparently both read the story and commented on it. Personally, I've very interested in the history of the early church because of all the doctrinal wars going on over the first few centuries, the compromises and out-and-out political trade-offs made, etc. But my interest has nothing to do with another person's interest, or lack of interest.

      August 5, 2010 at 6:47 am |
  16. gregg


    August 4, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  17. gregg


    August 4, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • miguel

      Gregg, CNN isn't indulging in a fairy tale. They've simply reported that Bulgarians have identified remains as having been believed, by 5th century Bulgarians, at least, to be Biblical in nature. Whether or not you give a crap about John the Baptist, it's an interesting piece of archeological insight regarding 5th century Bulgarians, at least.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  18. Norm Van Broccoli

    I if was Jimmy Hoffa, THAT would be news.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  19. Dave

    Ancient relics were nothing more than a scam perpetrated by the different monasterys to entice pilgrims to make a pilgrimage there and donate their money. Christianity and other forms of organized religion are nothing more than shams invented by the powerful to control the weak. There has been more wars and murder in the name of religion than any other cause. Organized religion is evil. Atheism is the only path toward peace and harmony.

    August 4, 2010 at 1:30 am |
    • me

      Peace only exists with the One who created it. When you find the Creator, you will find His peace.

      August 4, 2010 at 5:50 am |
    • Jim

      @me: What is this peace that you speak of..? There's not much peace in the christian world.

      August 4, 2010 at 7:18 am |
    • GodISLOVE

      Atheism has done nothing for humanity. Under Charlemagne schools opened for all people. So what peace does Atheism have, your comment is just a blank statement.

      August 4, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  20. lance corporal

    some poor shleps bones where stolen and USED as jon the baptists, this is just one more load of hoooey from a dying religion

    August 4, 2010 at 1:27 am |
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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.