Tag Archives: john the baptist

Where is St John the Baptist’s head?

On Monday we remember the passion and death of St John the Baptist. He was said to have been buried at the Palestinian village of Sebastia, near modern-day Nablus in the West Bank.

Relics were being honored there in the fourth century and the tomb continued to be visited by pilgrims, and St Jerome bears witness to miracles being worked there. Today, the tomb is said by some to be housed there in the Nabi Yahya Mosque (“John the Baptist Mosque”).

Relics of the saints have always had a fascination for many as centres of devotion. What became of the Head of John the Baptist is particularly hard to determine, and the centre of curious rivalries. Some ancient authorities say that Herodias had it buried in Jerusalem possibly in Herod’s palace, where it was found during the reign of Constantine and secretly taken to Phoenicia. There it was hidden for years, until it was manifested by a revelation in 453. In any case, over the centuries several different locations claim to possess the relic. Among the various claimants are:

  • in France, Amiens Cathedral contains what it claims to be the head of John the Baptist, brought as a relic from Constantinople by the French leaders of the Fourth Crusade
  • Islamic tradition maintains that the head of Saint John the Baptist was interred in what was previously the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist in Damascus, now the Umayyad Mosque
  • the Eastern Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist in Jerusalem displays a purported fragment of the skull of St John the Baptist
  • a reliquary at the Residenz in Munich, Germany, is labelled as containing what previous Bavarian rulers thought was the skull of John the Baptist
  • it is also believed by some that a piece of the skull is held at one of the monasteries on Mount Athos, in Greece
  • lastly, a strong tradition holds that the head on display at the church of San Silvestro in Capite in Rome is that of John the Baptist

The jokey priest there when I was in seminary in Rome in the 70s used to joke that their head was when John the Baptist was a younger man!

Fr Matthew

Give some joy

John the Baptist is presented by Jesus as one of the greatest persons ever born. Yet he missed the privilege being born into the age of Christ, a privilege that has been made available to us. We could do well to emulate John in preparing ourselves for Jesus to become really part of our lives.

John was strong. He was a man of integrity. He was not one of the rich and famous. He was no pop star – all sound and no substance. He would never have made a glamorous icon for Hello magazine. Yet many people went out to hear him, to be challenged by him, to have their lives radically changed by his words.

Actually, our Christian vocation is similar to his. We are called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our own hearts but also to prepare other people’s hearts so that they, too, may “experience the joy of salvation”, that healing, wholeness and holiness we all long for and which alone gives real meaning to our lives. Christmas is a time of gifts – both giving and receiving. Let us make sure that among the gifts we offer to others is some of the Christian joy which we ourselves have received.

From the reflection for today at “Sacred Space”


A prayer for today and for the week:

Lord Jesus,
you are Light for the World,
a lamp to our feet,
our guide, guard and protector in dark places. During this time of patient waiting and joyful expectation help us to open our hearts to welcome you;
be with us as we seek to show your infinite love
to all we meet;
and create in us a desire
to bring the light of your love
to those whose lives are filled with darkness, sadness and loneliness.