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Archaeologists Claim John the Baptist Reliquary First on Bulgarian Coastline

Date: 02.08.2010

Bulgarian archaeologists claim that the reliquary with the relics of St. John the Baptist, found in the souther Black sea town of Sozopol, is the first ever around the Bulgarian coastline.

Archaeologists investigating the Sv. Ivan (St. John) island off Sozopol found on July 28 the exquisite reliquary – a relic urn, built in the altar of an ancient church bearing the name of ST. John the Baptist. This is the oldest church on the island and it dates back to 5th century BC.

At the official opening of the relics on Sunday, the head of the archaeological team, Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov, stated that the reliquary was made out of alabaster and not of marble, as they have previously thought.

“An anthropological analysis is to be done soon,” he added.

The Bulgarian Minister without Portfolio, Bozhidar Dimitrov, who was present at the opening ceremony, has stated that from now on, Sozopol will be the new Jerusalem.

“The Sozopol church “St. George” currently owns a piece of the Holy Cross, donated by the PM Boyko Borisov. Also, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has also given us the relics of St.Andrew. These are essential Christian relics of the oldest saints,” Dimitrov said, adding that besides sea tourism, Sozopol could also develop pilgrimage tourism.

“Pilgrimage tourism is very popular worldwide and it provides 30% of the revenues from the tourism industry,” he said.

At the opening ceremony on Sunday, the archaeologists stated that the reliquary included parts of an arm, heel, tooth and a facial bone.

The head of the archaeological team, Prof. Popkonstantinov, has given the relics to the Bishop of Sliven, Joanikii, who is supposed to decide where the relics should be lying in state.

According to the Bulgarian Minister without Portfolio, the relics should be placed in the “ST. George” church near Sozopol.

St. John the Baptist - called also the Forerunner - is an imposing figure in the Christian New Testament. He was the last to prophecize the coming of Jesus Christ - and the one to baptize the young Jesus in the river Jordan. The great prophet died a martyr's death beheaded by king Herod at the request of his daughter Salome.

According to the Bible, St. John the Forerunner prophesized about Christ thus: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and fire" (Matthew 3:11).

St. John the Baptist is especially venerated by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. Over the centuries, there have been controversies about where his relics are located.

The town of Sozopol is one of the most ancient on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, dating from the Bronze age. It was colonized by Greeks, headed by philosopher Anaximander, around 610 BC. Sozopol became an early Christian centre with its own bishop. For most of the Middle Ages, it was part of the Byzantine empire.

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