There doesn’t seem to be much interest among Christians these days with regard to the history of the faith. It hasn’t always been so. In earlier times there was a great focus on the heroes and saints who had gone before. They were remembered in paintings and sculptures, as well as in the observance of special days.
Another important link to the past was the veneration of relics. Christian relics are physical objects with direct ties to Christian antiquity. In the earliest centuries the bones of the saints were highly prized possessions for the churches which had them. These relics were cherished and protected for generations. Of course, not all were actually authentic. But the main benefit to the churches was the link to the past, not some supernatural power in the bones themselves.
I was reminded of all this by an article in today’s newspaper. The article describes a recent discovery under an ancient church on an island off the coast of Bulgaria. A sarcophagus containing some bone fragments was found paired with a small urn bearing a Greek language reference to John the Baptist. Oxford University researchers have completed radio carbon dating and DNA testing on the remains, and have concluded that the bones are indeed those of a first century middle eastern male. They may very well actually be those of John the Baptist!
I was also intrigued by the history of the location. It is a 4th century monastery on St. Ivan’s Island (Ivan is the Slavic word for John). The article says “Nearby Constantinople — now known as Istanbul — was then at the center of the Christian world and the surrounding area was ‘full of monks and holy relics’.” It would be a plausible location for relics dating back to the time of Christ.