Bulgaria says relics of John the Baptist found on Black Sea island

2010-09-03

Relics of John the Baptist, including a tooth and hand bones, have been found on the Bulgarian Black Sea island of Sveti Ivan (Saint John), the professor who heads a team of archaeologists, Kazimir Popkonstantinov, has said. An alabaster container found on 28 July near the altar of the oldest church on the island, which is just off the coastal resort town of Sozopol, was opened with journalists and photographers as witnesses, various Bulgarian media reported. The relics were said to include a fragment of jaw holding a tooth, hand and heel bones. Claims that the relics would prove to those of John the Baptist, the preacher who baptised Jesus, were made at the time of the discovery by Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of Bulgaria's Museum of Natural History and also a national cabinet minister without portfolio. 'Sozopol is going to be a second Jerusalem,' Bulgarian National Radio had quoted Dimitrov as saying on 1 August. Traditionally a seaside tourist resort, Sozopol could now become a destination for 'pilgrim tourism', Dimitrov said. 'From today, Bulgaria is under the auspices of one of the most important Christian saints,' Bishop Yoanikii of Sliven said at the event at the Sozopol Museum at which the alabaster container was opened. Popkonstantinov's archaeological team said that the container was the work of master craft workers of the fourth century, Bulgarian National Television reported. He said the relics had been found intact and in a 'natural environment'. The finding is 'indisputable', said Popkonstantinov, of the archaeology department at Veliko Tarnovo University. Some reports quoted church authorities saying there are plans for the relics to be kept at the church of St George in Sozopol. Questioned by a journalists from the Bulgarian daily Standart newspaper whether the relics would be subjected to carbon dating testing to check their age 'and dispel all doubts about their authenticity', Popkonstantinov said funding is needed because such testing is 'quite expensive'. The actual dig, done by a team on the island, receives 25 000 euros in funding through the local Sozopol Foundation. Work at the site on Sveti Ivan island resumed on 21 August and continues until 10 September. The Umayyad mosque in Damascus, Syria, has a shrine that holds what is claimed to be the skull of John the Baptist. Relics are also claimed to be held at a church in Istanbul. Sozopol mayor Panayot Reyzi, was quoted by Standart, as saying that given that the town also had some relics of St Andrew, 'we have excellent conditions for pilgrim tourism'. Bulgaria has in recent years made a series of archaeological discoveries, including in areas that were closed off during the communist era. Finds have spanned the Thracian to the early Christian eras.