July 26, 2010

The Hand of Saint John of Rila

Rila Monastery’s most important relics are usually well hidden from visitors. They include an icon of the Virgin Mary, which is considered to work miracles, and the relics of the monastery’s founder, Saint John of Rila. A century ago, the saint’s hand used to be on display, popped out of a decorated coffin and worshippers would come to kiss it. After an overzealous follower of the saint tried to bite off a piece of the relics, however, the monks were forced to put them under glass for protection.

One story about the remains is that the atheistically inclined communist leaders, troubled by the flow of worshippers they attracted, tried to take the saint’s body away. As a result of the monks’ prayers, the truck transporting them caught on fire and they were forced to bring them back.

Now, the hand of John of Rila is not only kept under a glass cover, but it is only taken out and displayed during big celebrations. His bones are placed among silver and stay hidden in a drawer, which the monks unlock under a tight schedule, not yielding to any of the tourists’ begging.