John the Baptist found in Bulgaria

Bulgarian archaeologists say they have found a reliquary containing the remains of John the Baptist on an island in the Black Sea.

St. Ivan island, off the Black Sea coast near the Bulgarian resort town of Sozopol, has been a religious center since the fifth century. One of the many medieval churches on the island is named after Saint John the Baptist, and local tradition holds that his remains were buried inside the altar. A team of archaeologists recently opened up the altar and found an ornate marble reliquary. When they opened it last weekend, they found bones inside.

So are these really the remains of the man who baptized Jesus Christ? The Bulgarian Orthodox Church thinks so, and so does the local press. The truth, however, is a bit murkier. Saints’ relics were hugely popular in the Middle Ages, with every major church having several. Even contemporary observers joked that if all the pieces of the True Cross were brought together they’d make a lumberyard. Relics often moved around, taken as booty by plundering armies, sold by one church to another, or even stolen by pilgrims.

Of course, none of this matters to the faithful who have flocked to this island for centuries. St. Ivan island, with its Roman and Medieval remains, is also popular with tourists, and this latest discovery makes the island even more interesting.

Photo of the 11th century Codex Aureus Gnesnesis courtesy Wikimedia Commons.