Excavations on Saint Ivan island, the largest of five Bulgarian islands in the Black Sea, have unearthed an exquisite marble reliquary incorporated into the church’s altar, the historian Bozhidar Dimitrov, director of the National History Museum and minister without portfolio in charge of Bulgarians abroad, told Focus news agency on July 28 2010.
He suggested that the reliquary might hold the relics of John the Baptist.
Once the island was converted to Christianity, a monastical complex was built between the 5th-6th century on top of the ruins of the old Roman temple, including the Basilica of the Mother of God. Around the 7th-9th century, the basilica was abandoned only to be reconstructed in the 10th century.
The Monastery of John the Forerunner and the Baptist grew into an important centre of Christianity in the region. Archaeological research was carried out after 1985 for a a period of two years, which revealed a royal residence, a library, part of the fortified wall with the gate and several monastic cells.
Kazimir Popkonstantinov, an archaeologist professor is overseeing the excavation on the island. Dimitrov said that the reliquary will be opened for the media in a few days after the "necessary religious ceremonies are carried out".
St. Ivan is the largest Bulgarian island in the Black Sea, with an area of 0.66 square kilometres just off the Bulgarian Black Sea coast near Sozopol, a town rich in history and a popular tourist destination, and is separated by a strait several hundred metres long from the small neighbouring St. Peter Island. It is 920m from the Stolets peninsula, the location of Sozopol's Old Town.