When Bulgarian archaeologists argued that bones found in a reliquary in a monastery on Sveti Ivan Island were those of John the Baptist, their claims were met with scepticism. However, recent testing has suggested that their claims may be true.
A carbon dating undertaken by Oxford professors on the right hand knuckle bone has dated the relics to the first century AD, the time when John the Baptist lived.
A DNA test carried out by the University of Copenhagen indicated that the bones belonged to a single person, probably a man of Middle Eastern ethnicity, findings that correlate with the historical John’s profile.
Though the findings are not conclusive, they do not refute the suggestion made by the archaeologists who discovered the bones.
Bulgarian archaeologists had found a small box made of hardened volcanic ash close to the sarcophagus during excavations under the church.
The box bore inscriptions in ancient Greek that referred to John the Baptist and the date that Christians celebrate his birth, June 24.
Many other religious foundations around the world claim to possess relics of the saint. The right hand, a particularly important relic as it was with that hand the St John baptised Christ, is claimed to be held by many monasteries including a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Montenegro.
Oxford Professor Tom Higham, who led the study, expressed surprise at the early date of the bones. He commented “We had suspected that the bones may have been more recent than this, perhaps from the third or fourth centuries. The result from the metacarpal hand bone is clearly consistent with someone who lived in the early first century AD,’
He continued: ‘Whether that person is John the Baptist is a question that we cannot yet definitely answer and probably never will.’
Dr Hannes Schroeder, from the University of Copenhagen, echoed this note of caution, adding “Of course, this does not prove that these were the remains of John the Baptist but nor does it refute that theory.”
The findings of another Oxford researcher, Christopher Ramsey, using historical documents, suggest that the monastery of Sveti Ivan may have received a portion of John the Baptist’s relics in the fifth or early sixth centuries.
John the Baptist, the namesake of St John’s College, is an important figure in the Gospels, foretelling the coming of Christ, before his eventual beheading by King Herod.