St. John The Baptist Relics Put Bulgaria's Sozopol in CNN Focus

Archaeology | July 18, 2011, Monday // 12:42|  views

The remains, believed to be John the Baptist's, were uncovered in July last year during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. Photo courtesy by K. Popkonstaninov

Last summer's remarkable archeological discovery of the St. John the Baptist's relics in Bulgaria's coastal town of Sozopol  has attracted huge interest towards the town as a historical center of the country.

The statement was made Monday by Sozopol's Mayor Panayot Reyzi on the occasion of the official day of the town – the Day of St. Marina.

Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov, the person who is behind the discovery, announced that media such as CNN and National Geographic have focused on the ancient Bulgarian town on the Black Sea coast and have filmed the event.

Popkonstantinov was bestowed by Reyzi with the title "Honorary Citizen of Sozopol," and with an honorary sign for his contributions.

"It is a great honor to be honorary citizen of a town with a 2 621 years of history. I can compare this feeling only with the Award for the Study of European Culture I received in Vienna 7 years ago, and will remember this 2 moments all my live," the Professor said in his thank you address.

Reyzi voiced hope Sozopol will become also a center of congress tourism which will extend the summer season.

The remains believed to be John the Baptist, including a skull fragment and a tooth, were uncovered at the end of July last year during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. They were in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John's name and his birth date.

When Bulgarian archaeologists declared they had found relics of John the Baptist, one of the most significant early Christian saints, their discovery became the subject of huge interest, much skepticism and even scam allegations.

According to excavation leader Professor Popkonstantinov the Greek inscription on the tiny sandstone box, reading "God, save your servant Thomas. To St John. June 24", the date, celebrated by Christians as John the Baptist's nativity, is a very strong proof that the relics of John the Baptist are genuine, the key clue to their origin.

But the discovery on Sveti Ivan and the claims about the box-office draw of Sozopol as a center of religious tourism have been greeted with strong skepticism by some within Bulgaria's archaeological community.

While Popkonstantinov concedes that his case for the relics mixed fact with hypothesis, he enjoys the support of those experts, who say spirituality always rubs up against archaeology.

Bulgarian government plans to benefit from the box-office potential of the discovery, going as far as to say that Sozopol will be the new Jerusalem.

Officials of the recession-hit country believe that the purported relics will give a big boost to tourism, drawing believers from neighboring Orthodox Christian countries to this nearby resort town. They are looking at the relics to promote religious tourism, hoping for an economic salvation and miracle in polls.

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Tags: honorary citizen, Day of St. Marina, National Geographic, CNN, tourism, Panayot Reyzi, Kazimir Popkonstantinov, reliquary, St. John the Baptist, Sozopol, archaeologists, archaeology, relics, John the Baptist


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