I don’t know that there is an actual argument going on over who has the head of John the Baptist, but in a very interesting article from CNN there are four countries in which religious groups claim to be the possessor of John’s head:
Italy: A church in Italy has had it on display dating from the 13th century.
France: A church in France says they brought it back from Istanbul in 1200 after crusaders sacked the city.
Syria: A mosque in Syria which was built over the site of a church whose purpose served as a shrine for John’s head contained therein.
Germany: a museum claims to have John’s head, which is one of a number of relics collected in the 16th century.
Not coming from a religious background where Saints, or relics of Saints, was of any concern, I find it difficult not to laugh at what I consider fairly preposterous. I don’t mean any disrespect, but an argument about the bones of St. John is another matter.
All my cogitating about John’s head has come about because of a religious and political flap in Bulgaria over a small alabaster box containing a few bone fragments, which was uncovered in an archeological dig. This box was discovered under the altar of a 5th century basilica. According to CNN, a later monastery in the same location was dedicated to John the Baptist, and the excavation leader said that this was indirect evidence that the relics (which included fragments of skull and face bones, as well as a tooth) were St. John’s. So now there are religous, political and scientific personages with a vested interest in these relics.
Reading about the Bulgarian brou-ha-ha made me laugh. It involves lots of entities and expletives. But what does one expect? Religion has never gone easily, and certainly one group may have a dickens of a time lending another group a bit of charity regarding their cherished beliefs. I read, and laugh and try to avoid scorn, even when I hit something that is borderline preposterous. Don’t judge, I say to myself.
But for interesting reading, try http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/08/12/bulgaria.john.baptist.relics/index.html