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Skeletons found in Saint Stepanos church could belong to John the Baptist

Tehran, 4 August 2005 (CHN) - Following the recent discovery of skeletons in Saint Stepanos Church, in a letter to CHN, Iran's Armenian Archbishop talked of the possibility of their belonging to John the Baptist.

A few months ago, a team of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) who were studying documents from Iranian churches for international registration, discovered some skeletons in Saint Stepanos Church, located in the northeastern province of East Azarbaijan.

Saint Stepanos Church is Iran's second most important church after Qareh Kelisa (the Black Church) in West Azarbaijan.

With regard to this discovery, Sabveh Serkisian, Iran's Armenians' archbishop and head of the Prelacy of Tehran and North of Iran, wrote a letter which reads as follows:

"With regard to the box found in Saint Stepanos Church of remains of Apostles, it is said that the box consists of remains of John the Baptist. According to Armenian historian, Aracle Davar Yareshti, when the Taslis-e Moghaddas (Trinity) Church of Old Jolfa was destroyed, a box of sacred remains and a scroll were found at the location of the main church altar and handed after a while to Shamon, bishop of Saint Stepanos Church in Darsham region. The scroll was then transferred to the afore-mentioned church in 972.

"Most probably the discovered remains are of great historical value. According to the church tradition, we know that when Gregor was selected as the bishop of Gheisarieh (Constantinople), on his way back, Bishop Ghiondios gave him parts of the remains of John the Baptist to show his affection and respect. Parts of the remains were transferred to the town of Mush and put in the main church of John the Baptist.

"The transfer of these remains to another location has been the result of killings and destructions in the region. Priests and true Christians changed the location of the skeletons to preserve the skeletons, and as a French traveler recalls he saw the box when he was passing Saint Stepanos Church in 16th-early 17th century where he was told that the box belonged to one of the 12 Apostles of Christ."

The bones discovered by Iranian experts in Saint Stepanos Chruch were collected in attendance of a representative from the Prelacy of Armenian Church and transferred to East Azarbaijan Prelacy until the completion of the restoration project of the church.

Existence of the bones of Apostles and Christian Saints, namely Saint Stepanos (saint Etienne), Saint Minos and Daniel, has been pointed out in different sources including "six journeys of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier" (1676), some photo-albums in Golestan Palace, and also the photo archives of Adl clan, which were taken by Ali Khan Vali, the ruler of northern Azerbaijan in Qajar era.

The discovery of these bones in Saint Stepanos Church highlights the importance of the church and is hoped to facilitate its registration on UNESCO World Heritage List as desired by Iranian officials.

... Payvand News - 8/5/05 ... --

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