Monday, August 9, 2010

John the Baptist and the Power of Ancient Pilgrimage

Tomb of St. John the Baptist at a Coptic monas...Image via Wikipedia
Media in Eastern Europe are agog with the announcement in early August that remains believed to be of John the Baptist have been dug up on ancient St. Ivan (John) Island, off the Black Sea coast of Sozopol, Bulgaria.

Inhabitants of the island began following Christianity around 300 A.D. and a monastery was built there over the ruins of an ancient Roman temple. Early buildings included the Basilica of the Mother of God. Over the centuries the church and surrounding monastery were abandoned and reoccupied. The Monastery of John the Forerunner and the Baptist was an important center of Christianity. Archaeological research has occurred sporadically since the 1980s and was recently funded by the Norwegian government. A royal residence, a library, part of the fortified wall with the gate and several monastic cells have been unearthed.  The relics, which include part of an arm bone, a skull bone, and a tooth, were found in a sealed marble reliquary in the St. John the Forerunner Church in July by the team of archaeologists led by Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov.  A Greek inscription was found quoting a man named Thomas, “God’s servant brought a particle of St. John on the 24th,” a traditional feast day for the Baptizer.

Thousands of pilgrims are streaming to the site from Russia and Europe. How did the relics get to the Black Sea? Why do pilgrims feel the need to visit? What is the significance of being in the presence of something possibly sacred? These and other issues are relevant to the find on this ancient Black Sea island and also relevant to my soon-to-be-published novel, Gettysburg Passage. Look for it soon!
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