The Head of St John the Baptist – the Early Evidence

Georges Kazan, D.Phil. (Oxon.) free ebook
In 1881, the New York Times, in an article condemning what it called ‘the silly worship of relics’ recounted the anecdote of two rival French monasteries, which each possessed a head of John the Baptist.1 The monks explained this uncomfortable fact by saying that the first skull belonged to John as a man, whereas the smaller skull was from ‘when he was a boy’.
However, this story appears to have its origins in a footnote to the 1854 translation of John Calvin’s Treatise on Relics by the Polish exile, Count Valerian Krasinski, and relates in fact to two skulls of the rebel Prince Ragotzi, one smaller than the other, kept in the museum of curiosities in the Palace of Prince Grassalkovich in Hungary.2 Falsification or perhaps simple confusion can therefore occur not only in the evidence for relics but also in the works of critics.
Like the relics of the Baptist’s head, the abundance of relics from the Wood of the Cross have been used as arguments against the authenticity of relics in general. However, a study by Anatole Frolow has shown that far fewer fragments of the True Cross are known than one would expect.3 Today only about a thousand pieces, mostly very small fragments, are thought to survive.4 Perhaps, given their limited number and the fact that wood permits tests such as radiocarbon dating, a scientific study could tell us the age of these fragments and whether they share a common origin. free ebook