Bulgarian Archaeologists Discover Early Christian Saints’ Relics in Secret Museum Fund

The 19th century silver and gold reliquary where researchers from Bulgaria's National Museum of History discovered relics of four early Christian saints, St. Dionysius, St. Pantaleon, St. Paraskeva, and St. Charalambos. Photo by Bulgaria's National Museum of History

The 19th century silver and gold reliquary where researchers from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History discovered relics of four early Christian saints, St. Dionysius, St. Pantaleon, St. Paraskeva, and St. Charalambos. Photo by Bulgaria’s National Museum of History

Archaeologists from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History have come across relics of four early Christian saints while they were restoring a reliquary from a “secret fund" of artifacts held at the museum.

The relics in question consist of bone particles of four saints glued together and hidden inside a rectangular niche below an image of the Virgin Mary inside the reliquary, the Bulgarian National Museum of History has announced in a statement.

An inscription in Greek states that those are the “Holy relics of St. Dionysius, St. Pantaleon, St. Paraskeva, and St. Charalambos. Kosinitsa Monastery".

The reliquary was made of high-quality silver and gold. The inscription in Greek states that it was completed on March 25, 1821, by a monk called Seraphim.

The relics of the four early Christian saints were found in this niche inside the reliquary. Photo by Bulgaria's National Museum of History

The relics of the four early Christian saints can be seen in this niche inside the reliquary. Photo by Bulgaria’s National Museum of History

The announcement of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History explains that The Holy Mother Kosinitsa Monastery exists to this day near the town of Drama, in Northern Greece, and that it was founded by the ethnic Bulgarian community in the region – which is why it has a Bulgarian name.

“The Greeks, led by their patriotism, renamed the monastery to [Panagia] Eikosifinissa (“the twenty palm trees"), and insist that this has always been its name. As can be seen not just from this reliquary, but also from other documents, the monastery has always been called Kosinitsa," reads the statement of the National Museum of History in Sofia.

It further explains that back in 1917, during World War I*, a group of Bulgarian intelligence officers led by Bogdan Filov, a controversial Bulgarian historian, archaeologist, and politician, took the church plate of The Holy Mother Kosinitsa Monastery to Sofia, including the reliquary where the relics of St. Dionysius, St. Pantaleon, St. Paraskeva, and St. Charalambos have just been found.

The statement of the Bulgarian National Museum of History explains that after Bulgaria’s defeat in World War I was sealed with the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine**, the church plate and other items from the Kosinitsa Monastery were classified and stored in a secret museum fund since under the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine the country had to return the items from the monastery to the then Kingdom of Greece.

The declassification of these items was approved in 1992 by Bozhidar Dimitrov, the then and current director of the National Museum of History, on the basis of a 1964 agreement with Greece under which the items in question became property of the Bulgarian state.

The reliquary and the relics of the four saints, St. Dionysius, St. Pantaleon, St. Paraskeva, and St. Charalambos, will be put on display at Bulgaria’s National Museum of History.

Outside view of the silver and gold reliquary hiding the holy relics. Photo by Bulgaria's National Museum of History

Outside view of the silver and gold reliquary hiding the holy relics. Photo by Bulgaria’s National Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

The announcement of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History does not provide sufficient disambiguation about which St. Panteleon the discovered belonged to: St. Dionysius the Areopagite, the first Christian bishop of Athens, who lived in the 1st century AD, or St. Dionysius the Great of Alexandria who died in 264 AD, among other saints with the same name.

Saint Paraskeva most likely refers to St. Paraskevi of Iconium, in Asia Minor, an early Christian virgin martyr who lived in the 3rd century – although a 11th century Bulgarian saint, St. Petka of Bulgaria, was also known as St. Paraskeva.

Saint Pantaleon of Nicomedia (ca. 275 – 303 AD) was an early Christian healer and martyr of Nicomedia in the Roman province of Bithynia, Asia Minor, at the time of the Diocletian Persecution of Christians in 303 AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284 – 305 AD). St. Pantaleon is honored on July 27/August 9.

Saint Charalambos of Magnesia (ca. 89 – 202 AD) was an early Christian healer and martyr for the Christian faith; he served as an early Christian bishop in Magnesia, a region of Asia Minor. At the time of his martyrdom, in 202 AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Septimus Severus (r. 193-211 AD) he was believed to have been aged 113. The feast day of St. Charalambos (or Haralambos) is February 10, he is honored as the patron of beekeepers, among other things.

Bogdan Filov (1883-1943) was a renowned archaeologist and historian but a controversial Bulgarian politician; he was the pro-German Prime Minister of the Tsardom of Bulgaria in 1940-1943 who during World War II, on March 1, 1941, signed Bulgaria’s alliance agreement with Nazi Germany and the other Axis Powers.

*At the time of World War I, Bulgaria was allied to the Central Powers and fighting Entente forces on the Balkan Front in the region of Aegean Macedonia, in today’s Northern Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece entered the war on the side of the Entente in 1917.

**The 1919 Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, is considered a national tragedy and major humiliation for Bulgaria; it was the peace treaty that ended World War I between Bulgaria and the Entente Powers, stripping Bulgaria of large territories populated by ethnic Bulgarians, and imposing hefty reparations and a number of other humiliating restrictions.