St John the Baptist's bones? - photo Oxford University

Your hand bone’s connected to your arm bone…. – photo copyright Oxford University

I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of relics. For me, the worst thing about Rila was probably the Miracle-Working Icon of the Virgin, which is essentially a painting of the Virgin mary surrounded by a box in which is embedded relics of 32 different saints.

I don’t like them, because:

  • The idea of kissing someone’s toenail or tooth gives the the creeps. Multiply that by 200x if they’ve already been dead for hundreds of years.
  • I think the majority of them are probably fakes.

Why? Well, Del Boys of one kind or another have existed throughout the ages, and to me, passing off a pig’s bone as a relic from a favourite saint seems an opportune way to make a bit of cash (I wonder whether this all boils down to my studying Chaucer at A-level?).

So in a way, it’s quite heart-warming to hear that when a group of scientists from Oxford University carbon-dated some bones said to be those of John the Baptist, they found that they were indeed from the 1st Century AD. Whilst Professor Thomas Higham points out that there’s no way of telling whether or not the bones are those of John the Baptist, at least the story is consistent.

The bones were found on the island of ‘Sveti Ivan’ in Bulgaria which translated into English means ‘St John’. The bones are thought to belong to St John the Baptist because the archaeologists found a reliquary box with an inscription in Ancient Greek that mentions John the Baptist and his feast day.

Six human bones were among the finds uncovered under an ancient church. They included a metacarpal hand bone, a tooth, and the face part of a cranium which were found in small marble sarcophagus under the floor near the altar.

Mind you, three animal bones were also inside the sarcophagus, so even if some of the bones were John’s, Del Boy might still have been involved with a ‘2 for 1’ deal…


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