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. Wesley Pittman

    I think you are in the wrong article.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  2. Melissa

    What a bunch of total garbage. The religious are desperate to prove their religion right so they make crap up.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  3. Double-T

    Well, everytime something like this is discovered the propaganda starts all over again......Believe what you want people, someone will bring to the table "facts" that will support your belief, no matter which side you are on. Oh, Bible, the greatest of history's self-help books, if only the dewey decimal system existed then, we could just put the bible in the fiction section and that could be the end of it.....Show me a single piece of real proof that Jesus ever did anything or he ever even existed at all. You can't and you will never be able to....Let's all kill each other over a storybook.....maybe you're right and evolution isn't real.....There seems to be plenty of evidence on this board to support THAT, at least....Bring on the flames, thumpers, I know you will....Oh, and I care more about facts then having my soul saved, so don't bother to pray for me, because no one hears it anyways....Go line the Church's pockets, and send your kids to Sunday school so they can get molested some more....THAT there is proof of......and when you die, you'll just be worm food, science (or black magic as some call it), will prove that too.....if ignorance is bliss then may you all find bliss in heaven, Amen....

    August 4, 2010 at 9:45 am |
    • Kate

      Your contempt for everyone who does not share your point of view is profoundly similar to the Al Qaeda and Taliban Muslim extremists. First, no one owes us any explanation about their belief or disbelief. Why do you think you are so special that we owe any proof on any issue? If you cannot accept any point of vew other than your own, then it is you that has the problem. If you had the huevos to stand alone in your belief or disbelief then you wouldn't be so abusive in condemning those who do not share your views.

      Only people who fear they are on the wrong path want others to join them for the trip. Think about it...

      August 4, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • Double-T

      @Kate, I don't need anyone's proof, and the fact that you are comparing me to terrorists means that maybe you should take your own advice.....And yes, I am special, and so is every other life, including yours......There are many opinions here, some I agree with and some I don't, but don't call me a terrorist because you don't like mine.....oh, wait....Maybe you're a terrorist, too! Enjoy your trip and I'll enjoy mine, and hopefully we'll end up at different places when the trip is over.....I'll be with the people talking about realistic things, and you can have fun with God, Jesus, Mohammed, The Easter Bunny, Leprechauns, and some unicorns....(Post some pics).....

      August 4, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  4. Satire

    you guys are so funny!! dont you know bible??jonh came to PREPER THE WAY OF THE LOORD JESUS! all the O.T. profecy the come of jesus,jonnh,said ,im the one that go before him,to preper his way."

    That one definitely wins the prize for funniest post. The spelling alone will have me laughing all day long.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  5. Kate

    I knew the editor of a very large newspaper in the days before the internet existed. That newspaper was owned by a large corporation and had the largest circulation in the U.S. Once a year, the editor would review all of the newspapers for negative stories about "the company" and destroy them by fire. "The company" wanted to ensure that it had a positive legacy. My point is that historical facts about Jesus have been manipulated by the function of time. Some records were destroyed during natural events (water, fire, weathering, natural deterioration) and some destroyed by unnatural events (anger, calculated manipulation). Then, of course, there are societal pressures existing at the time – free speech is a modern concept and even now it is limited in even the most open societies. The surviving records that historians are reviewing are but miniscule reminants of past fiction and non-fiction. As such, it is impossible to glean sufficient facts to establish "the truth" for or against Jesus existence. Instead, people with a biased agenda use these miniscule reminants as "evidence" when pontificating their own beliefs as "fact."

    I would offer a few thoughts. Which of the Ten Commandments are not relevant today? If they are all relevant then why do you not follow them? Has hubris, greed, and envy so consumed your life that you have no need to live your life by these simple rules? Whether Jesus existed or not is irrelevant when people lack even the most basic respect for themselves and others.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  6. Christine

    Its sad that, soon, so many posters here will be wondering where everyone else went.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:42 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Oh a rapture believer, I like those.
      Ok, please leave me your house in your will. Ignore the rest of your family, leave it to me. Do it now and put it on record. If you get taken in the rapture then it won't matter to you will it, and if instead, at the end of your life, you simply die then I get your house.
      How strong is your faith?

      August 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      You get her house, I'll get her car.

      August 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  7. Wesley Pittman

    John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." That is a prophesy of the death of the lamb of God who would rise again the third day and take His place on the right hand of the Father who is now interceding for you and me. He is coming again. The next time Christ comes, He will not be a lamb but a Lion, of the tribe of Judah. But also the Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords. John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ's coming. Now, the true Bride of Christ, are preparing the way for the second coming of Christ. John the Baptist said, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

    August 4, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  8. Wake-Up

    Flavius Josephus is the most famous Jewish historian. In his Antiquities he refers to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”

    August 4, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  9. MikeMazzla

    There is nothing more entertaining than reading crazy religious people argue over a fair tale.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  10. Josef

    @lily1: I was waiting for someone to mention Josephus "suppose writings on Jesus" This has been proven to be a fraude perputtuated by somes christian to prove the existant of Jesus. Scholars have proven not only is this one staement of Jesus in all of Josephus writing faked, but it's not even in his style of writing , please give it up.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  11. Don F.

    An interesting choice of words. Consider the alternative choice of "soul". And what either choice might say about the writer.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  12. Cathy

    To Scott in Texas - Amen! I know where YOUR hope comes from! Sad some people live too much in this world...wonder where they think they will end up? I know where I will be...see you at the East gate!

    August 4, 2010 at 9:36 am |
    • dan

      There is no end up. there is no east gate. there is no eternity.
      When you die, you just die. That is it. These really are just stories to make you feel better about your mortality. I don't understand what's so abhorrent about just not existing

      August 4, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  13. Viking

    ODEN! send Loki and Thor to smite the disbelivers.

    We all know Valhalla is the true place of the GODs, Hell, even the Klingon's believed in their own nieve way.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  14. Steve

    If I'm not mistaken isn't the head of John the Baptist already on display behind the red curtain in Notre Dame in Paris? I guess 2 heads are better then 1.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  15. Steven

    Neat. However, there are many places, named after some religious icon, with a supposed relic of that icon. Before widespread critical thinking, an important official would point and say "see the relic! it is proof! Be moved! Moreover, do what I say!" Crusaders used to pick up pieces of wood and call it "the cross" 1000 years after christ. Most churches held "relics" to display legitimacy to uneducated followers.

    In short, the inscription is silly.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  16. Jimmy Ray

    So John The Baptists grave was created in the 5th century, but he baptized Jesus... Who was born around the 1st century.... something doesn't fit....

    August 4, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  17. Richard

    Istanbul was previously called Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire was not governed from Byzantium, it was governed from Constantinople. Basic research for this article would have shown this.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  18. AMM

    As far as I know the head of John the Batist is now located in a shrine inside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. I have the picture of the Shrine of John the Baptist. The last time as far as I know from a friend from Lebanon that the buried head was checked/seen in the 1930's. One of the person who observed the head was a grandfather of another friend of this friend of mine.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  19. bhjky

    I love the stupid liberals that post. It is pretty much historical fact that Jesus was a real person. Whether or not he is the Son of God or the Gospels are completely accurate or certain aspects are fused with local mythology of the time to glorify Jesus is up for debate. Personally, it is probably wrong (I believe this is the teaching of the Catholic Church) to take everything in the N.T. as factual truth. So some of these christian evangelicals are inaccurate in their beliefs (i.e. Revelation is not a fact prediction of the future).

    That being said, I despise the social liberal, hipster trash that post on these boards. They are so smug and think they are smart, but you are mostly dumb, selfish garbage. Jesus is fake. According to what? Gay marriage is a civil right. According to who? Anything that doesn't match their point of view is attacked. If you don't like others beliefs, then shut up. This isn't even a democrat vs republican thing. Real democrats are the middle class, blue collar workers. Smelly liberals are the social liberals who are as hate-filled as any group out there and want to complain about everything. Grow up, quit complaining.

    *Finally, on the note of Gay marriage. This is a point never talked about by the supporters. I ask, 'How can you respect a man who would allow another man to stick it in them and release fluids in their mouth or rear?' The day that is acceptable behavior is a dark day. A real MAN doesn't do that. That is not a civil right.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:08 am |
    • d12b

      finally someone who makes sense, im sick and tired of those people who think they are enlightened – that we are stupid! i just believe in one thing, every tree is known by its fruits...

      August 4, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • raw_texas

      What is this histroical fact you speak of? Any mention of him in any text (aside from the bible) was written hundreds of years after his supposed ascension. Flavius Josephus supposed wrote of Jesus, but not forst-hand, since he was born 37 C.E., 5 years after the ascension story. So please tell me what these historical facts are.

      August 4, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • bhjky

      My point is not to debate the divinity of Christ or if the N.T. is 100% fact. It probably isn't. The point is to point out the smug ignorance of social liberals who supposedly know the truth on everything including the fact that Jesus never existed. While there is no photo or DNA proof that Jesus existed, if you ask the opinion of rational historians, the overwhelming majority, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation will give you the same answer. There was a historical man in Israel named Jesus. You can debate all you want about this but I'll the side of the 95%+ of educated historians on this matter, not some liberal message boarders. Like I said, whether Jesus was the Son of God is a matter of faith and besides the point. But to claim he didn't exist is rubbish.

      August 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • MikeMazzla

      Hey Idiot arent you doing the same thing you accuse libs of doing? hate to break it to you but there is no debate on whether Jesus is teh son of god because any educated person knows there is no God. You are a typical conservative nut who accuses those who are educated of being snobs. Hate to break it to you but its not snobbery..its common sense. But I guess all that them there book learning is foreign to you

      August 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  20. Dianne Foster

    Without doing any forensics, but bearing in mind the credulity of the medieval people, who had lost some of the rationality of the ancient world, I would go to the text of what happened to John the Baptist and ask whether it is likely that (given that basis in what we might ever know about John the Baptist) the royal family who killed him would ever allow his followers to have his bones?

    Those who claimed the relics were real could have been duped or they could have decided to build a "profit center" in a new church, to draw pilgrims to the site. We have our shopping malls today, they had their pilgrimage sites.

    Wasn't his head delivered on a platter to Herod? Is it likely that the body was saved by that group of people? I don't think so.

    August 4, 2010 at 9:05 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.