From the Wall Street Journal August 13
Archeological Find Promises Fame, Tourists; Questions Remain Over Relics’ Authenticity
By Joe Parkinson
SOZOPOL, Bulgaria—Archaeologists and clerics here say they have unearthed bones belonging to John the Baptist, an itinerant preacher revered by many Christians as the last of the Old Testament prophets.
Bulgaria’s government is looking to the discovery for salvation—of a financial sort.
The remains, including a skull fragment and a tooth, were uncovered last month 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.
Officials of this recession-scarred country think the purported relics will give a big boost to tourism, drawing believers from neighboring Orthodox Christian countries to this nearby resort town,
Tens of millions of dollars have already been earmarked to prepare for an anticipated surge in visitors. Construction crews are enlarging the port and building a big new parking lot. Tour guides are being rewritten and new signs are going up to direct people to the relics.
“I’m not religious but these relics are in the premier league,” says Simeon Djankov, Bulgaria’s finance minister and an avowed atheist. “The revenue potential for Bulgaria is clear.”
Bulgaria’s Orthodox church hierarchy has declared that the bones are authentic. “This is a holy find. It doesn’t matter about the science,” says Metropolitan Bishop Joanikii of Sliven, who oversees church affairs in Sozopol. “The holy relics of St. John radiate miraculous force. I cannot explain it by using words.”
Kazimir Popkonstantinov, the archaeologist responsible for the finding in Sozopol and now hailed as a national hero, insists his discovery is in the same league as the Shroud of Turin. “This kind of discovery happens perhaps once every two hundred years,” he says. “We have very strong proof that this is genuine. I know this is very important for the whole Christian world.”
Some experts, however, are skeptical about the origin of the bones—as well as their earnings potential. Michael Hesemann, a religious historian who helps the Vatican date relics, says the bone fragments “appear to be authentic.” But he thinks they lack the “box-office draw” of better-known religious attractions such as the Shroud, which believers say is Christ’s burial cloth.
Update of Aug 3 post.