Cabinet votes 420 000 leva to restore church ‘holding John the Baptist relics’

2010-09-01

Bulgaria’s Cabinet announced on September 1 2010 that it was giving 420 000 leva (about 210 000 euro) to the church in the Black Sea town of Sozopol that, according to claims among some Bulgarian Orthodox Church leaders, an archeologist and a Cabinet minister, holds relics of John the Baptist. The plan to vote the money for the restoration of the church was announced in mid-August, a few weeks after the purported find. Earlier, during a visit to Sozopol, Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov announced an increase in funding for archeological projects in the area. The discovery was announced at the end of July 2010, when a team of archeologists headed by Sofia University professor Kazimir Popkonstantinov found the supposed relics, which were inside an alabaster reliquary and consisted of a tooth stuck to a fragment of jaw, pieces of hand bones and a piece of the facial part of the skull. The reliquary, said to date from the fifth century CE, has an inscription saying that "Thomas" carried the relics, which were found on Saint Ivan island, site of a monastery off the coast of Sozopol. The story attracted international media attention, and minister without portfolio Bozhidar Dimitrov has been a leading proponent of claims about the relics, saying that the find would make Sozopol a "second Jerusalem" and more recently claiming that the relics had "worked their first miracles". In the third week of August, Bulgarian National Radio reported that at the church where the fragments of bone were being kept (now held in a precious-metal container donated by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov) "the line of worshippers and curious tourists…never ends despite the scorching summer heat". Local media have reported that a stop at the church has become a favourite among tourists from Russia and Ukraine who are members of their countries' Orthodox Christian churches.