According to ancient tradition, the burial-place of John the Baptist was at Sebaste in Samaria, and mention is made of his relics being honored there around the middle of the 4th century. The historians Rufinus and Theodoretus record that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate around 362, the bones being partly burned.
A portion of the rescued relics were carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria, where on May 27, 395, they were laid in the basilica that was newly dedicated to the Forerunner on the former site of the temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued, nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and St. Jerome bears witness to miracles being worked there.
The Shrine for John the Baptist Head - Ummayad Mosque - Damascus
What became of the head of John the Baptist is difficult to determine. Nicephorus and Symeon Metaphrastes say that Herodias had it buried in the fortress of Machaerus (in accordance with Josephus).
Other writers say that it was interred in Herod’s palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine I, and thence secretly taken to Emesa, in Phoenicia, where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453.
However, the decapitation cloth of St. John is kept at the Aachen Cathedral.
The Coptic Christian Orthodox Church also claim to hold the relics of St. John the Baptist. These are to be found in a monastery in Lower Egypt between Cairo and Alexandria. It is possible, with permission from the monks, to see the original tomb where the remains were found.
An obscure and surprising claim relates to the town of Halifax in West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, where the Baptist’s head appears on the official coat-of-arms. A legend first recorded in the late 16th century and reported in Camden’s ‘Britannia’ stated that the first religious settlers of the district brought the ‘face’ of John the Baptist with them and this accounts for the town’s place-name – ‘halig’ (holy) and ‘fax’ (face).
The presumed 'Head of St John', enshrined in Rome
The location of John’s skull is the subject of various claims, including the following:
- Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
- The Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt. and at Gandzasar Monastery’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in Nagorno Karabakh.
- The Knights Templar. In the Middle Ages it was rumored that they had possession of the saint’s severed head, and multiple records from their Inquisition in the early 14th century make reference to some form of head being venerated by the Knights.
- San Silvestro in Capite in Rome.
- Amiens Cathedral, France, brought home by Wallon de Sarton from the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople.
- Turkish Antioch. (Fate uncertain).
- The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. (Extant).
- The Residenz Museum in Munich, Germany, the official residence of the Wittelsbach Family, the rulers of Bavaria from 1385 to 1918.
- The Schatzkammer (Treasury) portion of the museum has treasures and relics accumulated over ten centuries. The museum currently claims to have and is displaying the head of St. John the Baptist and his mother. [see photos in another article in this category
- The parish church at Tenterden in Kent, where it was preserved up until the Reformation.
- The saint’s right hand with which he baptised Jesus is claimed by the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje monastery in Montenegro,
- and also by the Romanian skete of the Forerunner on Mount Athos.
- A further hand – it is unclear which – is preserved in the Armenian Apostolic Church of St. John at Chinsurah, West Bengal, where each year on “Chinsurah Day” in January it blesses the Armenians of Calcutta.
- An arm, with or without a hand, is at the Topkapi Palace.
- Tomb of St. John the Baptist at a Coptic monastery in Lower Egypt. The bones of St. John the Baptist were said to have been found here.