Burial Locations of John the Baptist's Head

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Several different locations claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. The final resting place of John the Baptist's head varies widely depending on which religion you subscribe to. Muslims believe his head lies inside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, while Christians believe that a head on display at Rome's Church of San Silvestro in Capite is that of John the Baptist. Still others believe it is buried in Turkey or even southern France. In addition, museums and monasteries in Istanbul, Egypt and Montenegro, among other locations, claim to have other body parts belonging to John the Baptist, including his right arm and right hand (with which he baptized Jesus).

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Purported Locations

circa 36 CE

Nicephorus and Symeon Metaphrastes say that Herodias had it buried in the fortress of Machaerus (in accordance with Josephus). In The Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18:116-19), Josephus also confirmed that Herod Antipas “slew” John the Baptist after imprisoning him at Machaerus, because he feared John’s influence might enable him to start a rebellion.

circa 36 CE

Maqam Yahya
Ibn al-Faqih relays the story that during the construction of the Umayyad mosque, workers found a cave-chapel which had a box containing the head of St. John the Baptist, or Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā (يحيى بن زكريا) in Islam. Upon learning of that and examining it, al-Walid I ordered the head buried under a specific pillar in the mosque. It is also the current official place for the Catholic Church, Shrine of John's Head.

circa 36 CE

The Kishle
Some writers say that it was interred in Herod's palace (site, today known as the Kishle) at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine I, and thence secretly taken to Emesa where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453.

circa 36 CE

Russian Orthodox Convent of the Ascension
A small chapel

circa 36 CE

Basilica of San Silvestro
The basilica of San Silvestro in Capite is also famous for a relic, a fragment of a head purported to be that of Saint John the Baptist, kept in a chapel to the left of the entrance. A skull identified as the head of John the Baptist is on display at the Church of San Silvestro in Capite in Rome, built to house artifacts from the Roman catacombs.

circa 36 CE

An ariel view of the Temple Mount.

Haram as-Sharif
Edgeller, Johnathan argues that the Templars were accused of idolatry and were suspected of worshiping either a figure known as Baphomet or a mummified severed head they recovered, amongst other artifacts, at their original headquarters on the Temple Mount that many scholars theorize might have been that of John the Baptist, among other things.

circa 36 CE

Amiens Cathedral
The 13th-century cathedral in Amiens, France was built specifically to house the head of John the Baptist, which a Crusader supposedly brought back from Constantinople in 1206. The head was part of the loot of the Fourth Crusade, which had been diverted from campaigning against the Turks to sacking of Constantinople, the great capital of the Byzantine Empire. A sumptuous reliquary was made to house the skull. Although it was later lost, a 19th-century replica still provides a focus for prayer and meditation in the North aisle.

circa 36 CE

Residenz Museum
In Munich, Germany, the Residenz Museum includes John’s skull among a number of relics collected by Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria with the Pope’s permission in the mid-16th century. Tucked away inside this palace is a magnificent collection of relics, which includes one of the several alleged heads of John the Baptist. The exhibit is a heavily decorated cranium said to belong to John the Baptist.

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