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February 24, 2023

A Summary of the First and Second Finding of the Head of John the Baptist

The daughter of Herodias from a previous marriage, Salome (not referred to in the Gospels by name), on the birthday of Herod Antipas "danced and pleased Herod and those reclining with him." As a reward for the dance, Herod promised Salome to fulfill her every request. She, at the instigation of her mother, who hated John for denouncing her marriage to Herod Antipas, asked for the head of John the Baptist, and “the King was saddened, but for the sake of an oath and those reclining with him, he did not want to refuse her” (Mark 6:26). An executioner was sent to John's dungeon, who cut off his head and, bringing it on a platter, gave it to Salome, and she "gave it to her mother." John's body was buried by his disciples and the death was reported to Jesus (Matt. 14:6-12; Mark 6:21-29).

The First Finding of the Head of John the Baptist

According to legend, Herodias did not allow John's head to be buried along with his body for fear that he would rise from the dead, so she hid it in her palace, from where it was taken out by a pious servant (whose name was Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod's steward) and buried in an earthenware jar on the Mount of Olives. Years later, the nobleman Innocent decided to build a church on that site, and while digging a ditch for the foundation, he discovered a jar with a relic, which was identified by the signs emanating from it. After gaining the head, Innocent carefully kept it, but before his death, fearing that the relic would be desecrated, he hid it in his church, which then became dilapidated and collapsed.

The Second Finding of the Head of John the Baptist

During the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great, the head of John the Baptist was found in Jerusalem by two pilgrim monks who arrived in the city to venerate the Holy Sepulcher. John the Baptist appeared to one of them and pointed out the place where the head was located. The monks took it with them and put the relic in a bag of camel hair, but, showing laziness, they gave the relic to a potter from the Syrian city of Emessa who they met to carry the relic. According to legend, the Saint appeared and ordered the potter to leave the impious monks and take it to his home for safekeeping. All his life he carefully kept the relic, every day he lit lamps and prayed. Before his death, the potter, at the behest of John the Baptist, placed the head in a water-bearing vessel, sealed it and gave it to his sister. He ordered his sister to carefully keep the relic, and before his death to transfer it to a pious Christian. Later, the relic ended up with an Arian priest named Eustathios, who, with the help of the healings emanating from it, supported the authority of the Arian creed. When his deceit was revealed, he hid the head in a cave near the city of Emessa, with an intent to return later and continue his deceit. His plans were overturned, however, when pious monks came and settled in that cave. Later, a monastery arose above the cave, and in 452 Saint John, who, according to legend, appeared to the archimandrite of the monastery named Markellos, pointed to the place where his head was hidden. This was the second finding, after which it was brought to Constantinople.

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