September 5, 2020

The Relics of the Prophet Zechariah, Father of John the Baptist

We are informed through the Gospel of Luke and Orthodox tradition that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a High Priest of the Temple of Jerusalem. It was in the Temple that he was martyred in the days of Herod the Great.

According to the historian Sozoman, in the year 415 the incorrupt relics of Zechariah were discovered in a miraculous manner in the village of Caphar of Eleutheropolis in Palestine. Although he associated him with the Old Testament Prophet Zechariah, there are indications from his appearance in a dream that led to the discovery of the relics that he was a priest, since he was clad in a white stole. The Old Testament Prophet was not a priest, but the father of John the Baptist was. The discovery of the relics of the Prophet Zechariah is commemorated in the Orthodox Church on February 11.

The Chronicon Paschales informs us that on September 4th of 415, Ursus, the prefect of Constantinople, ceremoniously conveyed the relics of the Prophet Zechariah and the Old Testament Patriarch Joseph to Constantinople, and they were interred in the Great Church upon their arrival from Chalcedon. A chapel to the Prophet Zechariah was soon after built in the imperial palace. The Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of the Prophet Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, on September 5th because of these events.

In 827 Doge Agnello Partecipazio built a church dedicated to Zechariah in the city of Venice, called the Chiesa di San Zaccaria. According to a source, Zechariah's relics were sent as a gift to the Doge in Venice by the Roman Emperor Leo V the Armenian while the church was being built, he paid for the construction of the monastery and church and sent architects to build it. He needed the friendship of Venice to obtain its support against the Saracens who were invading Sicily. However, since the emperor Leo V died in 820 it is believed by some that the relics were sent in 819 and most likely inspired the Doge to have the church built. Others speculate that the relics were sent by Emperor Michael II in 827 or 829.

The Chiesa di San Zaccaria of today was built between 1458 and 1515, next to the old church. Antonio Gambello was the original architect, who started the building in the Gothic style, but the upper part of the facade with its arched windows and its columns, and the upper parts of the interior were completed by Mauro Codussi in early Renaissance style many years later. The facade is a harmonious Venetian mixture of late-Gothic and Renaissance styles. On 24 February 1660 the relics of Saint Zechariah were transferred from the old church to the new church. Unlike most churches in Italy, his relics are not underneath the altar, but they are along the wall, together with Saint Athanasius the Great’s relics. There are two sets of relics and Saint Zechariah’s are on the bottom. Saint Athanasius the Great’s relics are above the Prophet.

In addition, a portion of his skull can be found in the Monastery of Saint Nicholas in Sintza of Arcadia, and another portion of his relics is in Konstamonitou Monastery at Mount Athos.