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Ancient relic found containing ashes from the grave of John the Apostle

Ancient relic found containing ashes from the grave of John the Apostle


Excavations at a medieval port and fortress in Bulgaria have led archaeologists to discover several artifacts of significance. A lead vessel containing ashes from the alleged grave of John the Apostle has been found, as well as a 10th century Bulgarian royal seal.

Archaeology in Bulgaria reports the artifacts were recovered during excavations of the ancient fortress of Rusocastro , and the port of Burgos (Poros), located in what is today Burgas, Bulgaria.

Dig site of a Roman villa at Burgos (Poros) dating to the third century A.D.

Dig site of a Roman villa at Burgos (Poros) dating to the third century A.D. Credit: Regional Museum Burgas

The curved lead tube or vessel containing ashes was discovered in a reliquary attributed to Saint John (St. John the Theologian), one of the Twelve Apostles to Jesus in Christian belief. It was found within a reliquary in an early Christian basilica, dating to the sixth century A.D. The vessel itself is very small, measuring only 2.2 centimeters (less than an inch) long. The outside of the artifact is decorated with many equal-armed crosses, and one of the two handles is missing.


Described as a “holy possession that preserved a holy substance,” the relic would have been considered to have had healing properties, said Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, at a press conference this week.  He explained that relic was related to ancient beliefs, saying “every year on May 8, the date of John the Apostle’s death, there is manna, a holy healing powder, on the site of his grave.”

Portrait of John illustrated in the ancient Book of Kells. Dublin, Ireland.

Portrait of John illustrated in the ancient Book of Kells. Dublin, Ireland. Public Domain

According to historical sources, Christian pilgrims are said to have gathered on the date of his death at his grave site in ancient Greek city Ephesus (Turkey), where they would lay rose petals and receive healing manna. Many would make pilgrimages in hopes of taking the ashes or manna powder to their own villages to serve as a healing item or a powerful talisman to ward off evil. As the tube’s decorations match those in Ephesus, researchers believe it may have originated there, and was brought to Bulgaria via pilgrimage, reports news site Novinite.

“All of these Early Christian pilgrimage centers produced primarily clay tubes for holy water; a total of only 43 lead tubes from this time period are known in the entire world,” notes Archaeology in Bulgaria.

The ruins of the Basilica of John the Apostle in Ephesus (Turkey).

The ruins of the Basilica of John the Apostle in Ephesus (Turkey). © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Nikolov also announced the acquisition of a Bulgarian royal seal from the 10 th century, and the discovery of a latrine dating back to the sixth century during their excavations last year.

Locals found the seal, and brought it to the attention of officials. The unique lead seal once belonged to Tsar Petar I (927-970 AD) and his wife, Queen Maria, of the First Bulgarian Empire. It is reported to be the first seal of a Bulgarian monarch ever found in the region.


Excavations first began at the Burgos port and fortress in 2008, and continue today, with some interruptions over the years due to the restrictions of a nearby military base. Previous investigations have revealed a Roman villa, ancient artifacts, buildings, pottery, and fortifications of walls and towers.

Other notable archaeological finds in the country include the remains of the Varna Man, a high-status male of unimaginable riches, and the enormous cave of Devetashka, which has seen 70,000 years of human habitation.

Bulgaria clearly remains a region with a rich history still waiting to be uncovered.

Featured Image: Leaden vessel reliquary said to contain ashes from the grave of John the Apostle as found by archaeologists in Bulgaria. Photo credit: Top Novini Burgas

By Liz Leafloor



Peter Harrap's picture

More than one John. It was John the Baptist who was martyred. He was beheaded, tradition says, in Damascus. You can visit the very spot. It was not Jerusalem.Or it was Machaerus, but nobody really knows. They are not at all the same person.

The other John, the Apostle died a natural death and tradition asserts he cared for Christ’s mother Mary in Ephesus where, tradition says, she died.

This trinket, however, could be anything. It’s hardly likely to be anything to do with the man after 2000 years, is it?

Bogart 724's picture

I have been studying the puzzle of John the Apostle's legacy for many years. It seems to me that the hoopla about him living and dying in Ephesus is based on a scam perpetuated to promote the nonsense about him championed through Church traditions. The truth is that he suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem with his brother James years before the forces of Titus destroyed the Temple and flattened the city....

Blaze new paths and discern truth from propaganda lest you wander with the herd into the Abyss.

Agree with the above poster - definitely need to add "allegedly"..

How can the Holy Spirit have any feathers? The Holy Spirit is The Spirit of Jehovah and Christ.
Also, contrary to popular belief, angels do not have wings.
God said, "Let us make man in our image". That is Elohim in Hebrew, meaning, God and the angels.
Do you see humans with wings? The wings of the OT is not what most people think. Their spoken of in the Book of Ezekiel. Chapter one. Ezekiel has never seen anything more than a horse and buggy (chariot). He goes on to describe Gods vehicle and the other vehicles around it. He does a pretty good job considering. We call the same thing wings on our flying vehicles. (airplanes)
He describes the landing gear, the windows, the way people in the vehicle don't turn their heads when the vehicle turns. (unlike being on a horse) He also mentions the mother ship and all those around it. (wheel inside a wheel)
Yes, God uses vehicles, as do all angels. Good or bad. Angels don't have wings like a bird, as you see depicted in pictures and figurines. Just thought you might want to know that. :)

Thanks for the comment Lernin. I appreciate the feedback. We certainly remain skeptical of all such claims. Whatever the actual ashes within the vial are composed of is not known to us, nor was it attributed to any actual man by the archaeologists. They did say they believe the ashes indicate a religious ritual as mentioned in historical records (involving rose petals and ‘manna’ ash) at the site believed to be above the grave of the man alleged to be John the Apostle.

I hope this clarifies.



Liz Leafloor is former Art Director for Ancient Origins Magazine. She has a background as an Editor, Writer, and Graphic Designer. Having worked in news and online media for years, Liz covers exciting and interesting topics like ancient myth, history,... Read More

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