August 4, 2010

Tensions Over Relics of Saint John the Baptist

Recent Archaeology Find of Alleged Remains of Saint John the Baptist Causes Controversy

4 August 2010

The recent find near Sozopol is very nice and pleasant, but the results from the examination should be seen first, Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov said yesterday, regarding the recent archaeological discovery of remains that were almost immediately announced to have belonged to Saint John the Baptist.

In addition, the hurried announcement has caused tension in Bulgaria’s archaeological circles.

The relics, consisting of parts of bones from the arm and leg, as well as a tooth and a facial bone, were discovered last week in a sealed relic urn by the archaeological team of Professor Kazimir Popkonstantinov. As reported recently, the relics were found by a team of archaeologists during excavations on the St. Ivan (St. John) island off the coast of the town of Sozopol on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast.

On the day of their discovery, before having seen them, the Bulgarian minister without portfolio, former head of the National History Museum and Sozopol-native, Bozhidar Dimitrov, declared publicly that the remains are authentic and that they belonged to Saint John the Baptist, the Dnevnik newspaper reported.

On Sunday, Dimitrov was present at the ceremonial opening of the urn, when he also confirmed that it contained the saint’s authentic bones.

According to Rashidov, cited by Dnevnik, emotional statements are nice, but one should be careful. “For example, when I found out that we have 25,000 square metres available for a museum, I said – here we go, we will have a Bulgarian Louvre.

Dimitrov explained his claim that they did indeed belong to the saint with the fact that the monastery was one of the largest medieval monasteries and, depending on Sozopol’s belonging to Bulgaria or Byzantium, it had either royal or imperial status. “It is likely that in antiquity someone from the Patriarchate of Constantinople donated part of the holy relics, which were kept in Constantinople, to the Saint John monastery," Dimitrov explained.

According to him, Sozopol is now becoming a second Jerusalem. The Saint George church in the town, which will receive the remains, currently owns parts of the Holy Cross, donated by Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, and remains of Saint Andrew.

Meanwhile, anonymous Bulgarian archaeologists, cited by Dnevnik, have said that the conclusions around the find were hurried in search of sensational news.

While the experts aren’t questioning Popkonstantinov’s professionalism, they say conclusions should only be made after all the necessary examinations have been carried out. Even after further analysis, the find could be dated, but there would be no proof that the remains did in fact belong to one of the founders of Christianity, they added.

The archaeologists explain this, as well as other announcements of sensational finds from recent years, with the fact that it is much easier to find additional finances if you discover something unique and big. As the debates were going on, Dnevnik reported that Popkonstantinov’s team announced that a part of the saint’s heel was discovered in the remains.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian government announced today that it has decided to allocate additional funds for the renovation of the St. George Church will host the recently discovered relics. To the already allocated 150,000 leva (around 75,000 euro), it will add another 420,000 leva (around 210,000 euro) for repairs and additional infrastructure.