Archaeologists in Bulgaria claim to have found the remains of, significant figure in the Orthodox Church, while excavating a 5th century monastery on the island of Sveti Ivan in the Black Sea. A container for relics, known as a reliquary, was discovered last week under the monastery’s basilica. The team opened the reliquary on Sunday and found bone fragments of a skull, a hand and a tooth, according to Bulgaria’s news agency BTA.
A ceremony was held on Sunday in the coastal town of Sozopol and excavation leader Kazimir Popkonstantinov lifted the lid of the alabaster reliquary in the presence of dignitaries including bishops, a government minister and director of Bulgaria’s National History Museum.
More extensive tests on the fragments will be conducted, but Popkonstantinov is convinced the relics belong to John the Baptist because of a Greek inscription on the reliquary. The inscription including the date of June 24 which is when Christians celebrate John the Baptist’s birth.
"Sveti Ivan" means "St. John" in Bulgarian and other Slavic languages. Popkonstantinov said it is possible an 11th century basilica also on the island was also dedicated to the saint.
Christians believe John the Baptist prophesied the birth of Christ and baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. John was beheading by a local ruler, Herod Antipas, according to the Gospels.
The southern coast of the Black Sea coast was part of the Byzantine Empire in the 5th century. It was ruled from Byzantium, an ancient Greek city which is now Istanbul in Turkey.
Bishop Bozhidar Dimitrov, who attended the ceremony on Sunday, believes the Byzantine church may have donated the relics to the monastery. The Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul claims to house relics rumored to be those of John the Baptist.