The relics of St. John the Baptist found on Bulgaria’s Black Sea island St. Ivan (St. John) off the coast of Sozopol in 2010 are shown here by archaeologist Kazamir Konstantinov shortly after their discovery in the original marble reliquary that kept them for 1,500 years. Photo: archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov
The recent theft of a particle from the relics of St. John the Baptist committed in the city of Sliven in Southeast Bulgaria is an inside job, according to archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov, the researcher who discovered the holy relics in an Early Christian monastery on one of Bulgaria’s tiny Black Sea islands back in 2010.
In August 2010, during excavations of an ancient monastery on the Bulgarian Black Sea island of St. Ivan (St. John) near Sozopol, Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov discovered a reliquary containing relics of St. John the Baptist.
The news about the stolen relic was announced by the Sliven Bishopric of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church more than a week after the supposed theft. The relic particle went missing after the relics of St. John the Baptist had been taken to Sliven for worship by the local population for a five-day stint.
The church at first did not even notify the police hoping that the thief would repent, and bring back the stolen relic particle.
“It was an inside job. Because the local priests did manage to protect them [the relics], whether deliberately or not, but they did absolutely nothing for their safekeeping. That must have been an insider," Popkonstantinov has commented, as cited by the Focus news agency.
He spoke precisely on June 24, the birthday of St. John the Baptist, which is also mentioned on the inscription of the reliquary in which the relics were discovered off the coast of Bulgaria’s Sozopol back in 2010.
Without elaborating, the archaeologist also adds that just two months after the stealing of the relic particle in Sliven, the investigation has been ended since the Sliven Prosecutor’s Office “is afraid to press forward."
“We know that these are relics of St. John the Baptist because the inscription [on the reliquary] proves that," the scholar notes with respect to his world-famous discovery from the summer of 2010.
The relics consist of of small bone particles from a skull, a jaw bone, an arm bone, and a tooth.
The discovery of the St. John the Baptist relics in the Early Christian monastery on the Black Sea island off the coast of Bulgaria’s Sozopol made global headlines and has generated huge international interest.
The relics are presently kept at the St. George (St. Georgi) Church in the Black Sea town of Sozopol where they can be viewed by tourists. Their permanent home is the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Church in Sozopol.
The relics of St. John the Baptist were discovered in the St. Ivan (St. John) Island on the Black Sea coast near Sozopol back in the summer of 2010 by Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov in the ruins of an Early Christian monastery from the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century AD, around the time of the division of the Roman Empire.
The relics were inside a marble reliquary which was 18 centimeters long and 14 centimeters wide.
Popkonstantinov has been categorical that the relics belonged to St. John the Baptist judging from an inscription in Greek on the reliquary mentioning “Yoan" (John), and reading, “God, help your slave Thomas who carried on June 24…." – June 24 being the birth date of St. John the Baptist.
(*Update as of 2015: Subsequently, scholars from Oxford University tested the relics and concluded and found evidence that they could have indeed belonged to St. John the Baptist.
Radiocarbon and genetic testing revealed that the human remains in question did belong to a Middle Eastern man who lived at the time of Jesus Christ.)
As he has declared that he considers the theft of the relic particle to be an inside job in the Sliven Bishopric of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the archaeologist has also emphasized further the importance of his discovery.
He notes that reliquary which bears an inscription in Ancient Greek, and where the relics had been buried beneath the Early Christian monastery on the St. Ivan Island in the Black Sea, had been made of pure white marble which is typically found in today’s Southern Turkey.
“The reliquary itself is a museum exhibit in its own right," the archaeologists adds.
“These are the first relics considered to have been part of the body St. John the Baptist which have been found in an authentic archaeological environment, in a reliquary, which had remained closed for 1,500 years after it was buried," Popkonstantinov states.
He points out early results from DNA and radiocarbon analyses performed in two laboratories – one in Oxford University in the UK and one in the University of Copenhagen in Denmark – are showing that the relics come from the remains of a Middle Eastern man who lived at roughly the time when Jesus Christ was alive.
The archaeologists also adds that the entire setup of the archaeological monument where the relics have been found is also considered evidence for their authenticity.