Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Strange Afterlife of St. John, the Baptist's, Head

One of the things that surprised me most during my visit to Syria a few years ago was that Syrians believe the head of John, the Baptist is entombed within the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.  According to this online source, the head was taken to Damascus shortly after St. John's death and housed in a shrine within the cathedral that became known as the Cathedral of St. John, the Baptist.  Over time, the area changed hands many times, until finally it became the Umayyad Mosque.  Muslim leaders allowed the shrine to remain and it is there to this day.

This is the shrine of St. John, the Baptist. 
People are not allowed inside but you can peek in through the windows though the glass is so thick you can't really see anything very clearly.  If you're interested in the topic, this article discusses the various findings of the head in various places in the centuries following his death and presents the information that, in the Middle Ages, when relics became the hot thing, bits of skull fragments may have been shared out by church leaders in Constantinople even as Syrian sources were claiming to have located the head in Damascus.

Picture taken from within the Umayyad Mosque which is
considered the fourth holiest place by Muslims.
The beautiful Umayyad Mosque is one of the biggest in the world.

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