The 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]