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John the Apostle Relic Found in Bulgaria

St. John the Apostle

<![CDATA[A lead tube containing ashes from the place where John the Apostle was allegedly buried has been unearthed near the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Burgas. The reliquary, which is 2.2 cm in length and 1.7 cm in diameter, has been dated to the sixth century CE. It has a pattern of crosses and two handles, one of them broken. The capsule contains ashes believed to have been collected by a pilgrim at the grave of John the Apostle in Ephesus in what is today Turkey. The artefact was found in a mediaeval basilica within the Rusocastro fortress, as part of excavation works that started in 2008. John the Apostle, also called John the Theologian, gave rise to a cult that saw devout Christians gather at his grave in Ephesus every year on 8th May, the date when the apostle died, explained Milen Nikolov, head of the Burgan Regional Museum of History. They would cover with rose petals the rock standing above the grave, and on the next day the petals would turn into a holy powder, 'manna', that was believed to heal any ailment. According to some scientists, the manna was in fact the pollen from the roses. The pilgrims would then collect some of the manna in reliquaries made most commonly from clay, in the same shape as the lead one found near Burgas. Apart from manna, pilgrims used the capsules to carry holy water and other substances considered blessed, which in addition to healing powers were thought to ward off evil forces. Lead seems to have been a more seldom used material, as only 43 such capsules have been found from that time period. Given the history of the cult and the pattern on the reliquary, which is the same as the pattern on other such capsules discovered in Ephesus, researchers have suggested that a person whose home the fortress was made a pilgrimage to John the Apostle’s grave and returned with the precious manna. No details about the identity of the pilgrim are available at this point. The Rusocastro fortress, built 1,500 years ago, was a major hub along the biggest roads running through Southeastern Thrace, connecting the northern coast of the Black Sea to Constantinople. According to historical documents, there was a big, bustling city around the fortress, whose biggest claim to fame was its strategic role during the 1332 battle between Bulgarian king Ivan Alexander and Byzantine emperor Andronicus, which ended with a defeat for the Byzantines. Earlier, the area, whose most prominent feature is a natural elevation known as the 'Big Rock', had been home to a large Thracian settlement. It formed part of the Odrysian kingdom, which covered most of the territory of modern Bulgaria, parts of northern Greece and some of the European part of modern-day Turkey between the third and fifth centuries CE. This was the first state that unified several tribes in the eastern Balkans. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Johann Friedrich Glocker]]>

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