(CNN) — In a region already rich with archaeological artefacts, the excavation of a small alabaster box containing a few pieces of bone amid the ruins of a medieval monastery might easily have passed unnoticed.
But 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 rather more interest — prompting angry exchanges in the local media and even calls for a government minister’s resignation.
The claim is based on a reliquary — a container for holy relics — found on July 28 under the altar of a fifth century basilica on Sveti Ivan, a Black Sea island off Sozopol on Bulgaria’s southern coast. Inside, archaeologists found eight pieces of bone, including fragments of skull and face bone and a tooth.
A later monastery on the island was dedicated to John the Baptist; indirect evidence, according to excavation leader Kazimir Popkonstantinov, that the relics under the altar were those of the church’s saint.
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