Bulgaria pins faith in John the Baptist relic discovery

2010-08-18

Archaeologists and clerics in Bulgaria claim they have unearthed bones belonging to John the Baptist, which the country's government hopes will bring salvation through tourism. The remains, including a skull fragment and a tooth, were uncovered last month during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. They were in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John's name and his birth date, reports the Wall Street Journal. Officials of the recession-scarred country think the purported relics will give a big boost to tourism, drawing believers from neighboring Orthodox Christian countries to the nearby resort town. "I'm not religious but these relics are in the premier league," says Simeon Djankov, Bulgaria's finance minister and an avowed atheist. "The revenue potential for Bulgaria is clear. "Bulgaria's Orthodox church hierarchy has declared that the bones are authentic. "This is a holy find. It doesn't matter about the science," says Metropolitan Bishop Joanikii of Sliven, who oversees church affairs in Sozopol. "The holy relics of St. John radiate miraculous force. I cannot explain it by using words. "For its part, the Roman Catholic church says the matter requires more study. The Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology said tests to gauge the age of the bones and other factors would have to be weighed before it could judge their provenance.