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(Photo: An Orthodox priest holds up a box containing bones believed to be the relics of John the Baptist, in Sofia, November 12, 2010/Oleg Popov)
Bulgaria's main Orthodox cathedral is displaying jaw and arm bones and a tooth said to be relics of John the Baptist, in a move state officials hope will boost tourism to the Black Sea resort where they were found. Prominent politicians and simple believers flocked to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia to view the remains, which were found near the town of Sozopol in July and are on display in the Bulgarian capital through Sunday.
John the Baptist, a Christian saint also revered in Islam, announced the coming of Jesus and baptised him in the River Jordan. The Gospels say King Herod had John beheaded at the request of his stepdaughter Salome after she danced for him.
"About 150,000 people have visited Sozopol since the relics were found," Minister without Portfolio Bozhidar Dimitrov, who has already predicted a tourist boom for the region, told journalists outside the cathedral. Although it was no longer the tourist season there, he said, 7-8 busloads of tourists visit the resort daily to see the relics in its Church of Saint George.
(Photo: Bulgarian patriarch Maxim (C) blesses the box containing bones believed to be the relics of John the Baptist, in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, November 12, 2010/Oleg Popov)
The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Amiens cathedral in France and a church in Rome are among the places claiming to have relics of John the Baptist. As with most ancient relics, their authenticity cannot be verified. But verified or not, relics have long played a key role in religious tourism, especially in the Middle Ages when European bishops built lofty cathedrals to display remains brought back from the Crusades.
For centuries the Punakha Dzong monastic fortress in Bhutan's Himalayas has sheltered ancient Buddhist relics and scriptures from earthquakes, fires and Tibetan invasions. Now the lamas here may have met their match -- global warming.
At least 53 million cubic metres of glacier melt is threatening to break the banks of a lake upstream in the Himalayan peaks and spark a "mountain tsunami" in Punakha valley.
(Photo: An archive negative image of the Shroud of Turin (L) next to one created by Luigi Garlaschelli and released in Pavia, Italy, on 5 Oct 2009/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli (R)/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli)
Italian scientist Luigi Garlaschelli tells me he has been getting lots of hate mail as well as emails of support since our Oct 5 story that he had reproduced the Shroud of Turin with material available in the Middle Ages, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ's burial cloth is a medieval fake.
Given the controversy that has surrounded the Shroud, particularly since the 1988 carbon dating tests, this was hardly a surprise. One of Christianity's most disputed relics, it is locked away at Turin Cathedral in Italy and rarely exhibited. It was last on display in 2000 and is due to be shown again next year. The Catholic Church does not claim the Shroud is authentic nor that it is a matter of faith, but says it should be a powerful reminder of Christ's passion.
The Vatican's top official for issues dealing with saints, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, has denounced the sale of saints' relics on eBay. Unauthorised sales of relics are forbidden by the Catholic Church, he told the Italian daily La Stampa, and the objects could be used by satanic sects.
The Milan daily reported that the Internet auction site was offering a reliquary of St. Vincent de Paul for 1,600 euros ($2,380), a "special offer" of bone fragments of six saints going for 430 euros ($625) and a lock of hair from St. Thérèse of Lisieux for 30 euros ($44). Shreds of cloaks belonging to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Rita of Cascia are up for auction, it said.