Temple To Phallic God Priapus Found In Bulgaria?

Priapus
There’s something weird going on in the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Sozopol.

Last year, Bulgarian archaeologists dug up the graves of two vampires and analyzed the purported bones of John the Baptist. Now the Sofia Globe reports they’ve found a temple to the Classical god Priapus. This deity, best known for his huge erect penis, was the god of fertility and its opposite – erectile dysfunction. He acted as a sort of metaphysical Viagra.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum, said archaeologists excavating in Sozopol have found a clay phallus inscribed with the words “to Priapus.” This sort of item was common as a votive offering to the god. There’s no report on whether a building was found on the site. Actual temples to Priapus are rare, since he was a minor god worshiped mostly in the countryside or in gardens. His fertility extended to plants as well as people and he was also the god of merchant sailors, which would have been important in a thriving port such as Sozopol.

Priapus was a popular god in the Roman Empire. The above image, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, is of a fresco in Pompeii. You can find statues of the god and little phallic amulets in any large collection of Roman antiquities. The British Museum has several. Jump the cut to see a cute little figurine of Priapus with a little surprise.Priapus
This is actually two shots of the same bronze figurine dating to the first century AD and found in Picardy, France. On the right it appears as a man walking with a cloak wrapped around him, but pull the top off and presto! Instant fertility. It’s on display in the Musée de Picardie à Amiens. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeologists Analyze John the Baptist’s Bones

John the BaptistThe Black Sea port of Sozopol has been making the news quite a bit lately. First, Bulgarian archaeologists uncovered two vampire skeletons there, and now its relics of John the Baptist have been submitted to scientific analysis.

Back in 2010, archaeologists uncovered six bone fragments from a marble sarcophagus in the ruins of a medieval church on the island of Sveti Ivan, “Saint John,” near Sozopol.

The bones are on display at a church in Sozopol. One of them, a knucklebone, was radiocarbon dated at the University of Oxford’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. The team found it dated to the first century A.D.

The radiocarbon results will no doubt cheer the faithful, who generally dismiss radiocarbon dating when it proves the world is more than 6,000 years old or that the Shroud of Turin is a medieval fake.

Geneticists at the University of Copenhagen analyzed three bones and found they belonged to the same male individual, and that he hailed from the Middle East.

So could this be John the Baptist? It’s possible, although of course it can’t be said for sure. One point in favor is that a box made of volcanic tuff from Cappadocia, Turkey, was found next to the bones. On it is an inscription in ancient Greek of John’s name and feast day. Researchers note that many relics came from the Holy Land via the religious communities in Cappadocia before ending up in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, modern Istanbul. They were then distributed throughout the Empire.

Many relics from John the Baptist can be found in churches throughout the world, including several examples of his head. Gadling blogger and relics researcher David Farley came across one story of a Spanish monk who went in search of a relic for his monastery. As Farley relates:

“During his wanderings he happened upon a black market relics salesman who told him he had a fine relic he could sell him. It was the head of John, the Baptist. But this wasn’t just the head of John, the Baptist. It was the head of John, the Baptist…as an infant.”

[Photo of Serbian painting of John the Baptist, c. 1235, courtesy The Yorck Project]

Vampire Graves Dug Up In Bulgaria

vampire
Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered two vampire graves in the city of Sozopol on the Black Sea. The burials, which are about 700 years old, were each held down with a massive iron stake through the chest. One vampire was buried in the apse of a church – a spot usually reserved for aristocrats – and showed evidence of multiple stab wounds.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the Bulgarian National Museum of History, says more than a hundred vampire graves have been found in Bulgaria. He says that most suspected vampires were aristocrats or clergy. Interestingly, none were women.

One possible explanation for the vampire myth comes from anthropologist Paul Barber in his book “Vampires, Burial, and Death.” He posits the vampire legend started because people didn’t know how bodies decomposed. Rigor mortis is only temporary. After a few days the muscles ease up and expanding gases in the body will actually shift it within the coffin. Blood seeps out of the mouth and the face and belly get a flushed and puffy look. So. . .a guy dies, they bury him, and shortly thereafter several more people die. The villagers decide the first guy is a vampire, and when they open up his grave they find he’s moved, looks fat and flush with life, and has bloody teeth. When you drive a stake through a body filled with corpse gas it lets out a shriek.

There are several good vampire attractions in Europe, such as Dracula’s Castle in Romania, the Vampire Museum in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London, scene of a wave of vampire sightings in the 1970s.

Vampires have long captured the imagination. Vampire stories were popular in the nineteenth century and some of the best early horror films are vampire tales. “Nosferatu” (1922), a still of which is shown here in the Wikimedia Commons image, sticks close to the Bram Stoker novel. A different take can be found in the film “Vampyr” (1932). Both monsters are spooky, kick-ass killers, not the angsty pretty-boy teens of today’s vampire craze. As Bart Simpson once said, “Girls ruin everything, even vampires!”

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.