John the Baptist in the wilderness
Credit : Titian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In most Christian traditions, John the Baptist is also known as the “last prophet of the Old Testament,” the “forerunner of Christ,” or the “glorious prophet.” Many came to know Jesus through John, namely the Apostles Andrew and John.

Why does the Church celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist?

Only three birthdays are celebrated on the Church’s liturgical calendar, the Nativity of Our Lord (December 25), the Nativity of His Mother (September 8), and the Nativity of His forerunner, John the Baptist, on June 24. Saint John the Baptist was set apart from the womb to prepare the way of the Lord and was a significant figure connected to the Incarnation and the Redemption. The Church honors him because of his role in preparing the way for Christ.

Early life

He was born to Zachary and Elizabeth, an elderly married couple. The Angel Gabriel had visited Zachary and told him that his wife would bear a child, even though she was already past the child-bearing age.

Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin and Zachary was a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem. As a baby in the womb, John recognized Jesus’ presence in Mary’s womb when Mary visited Elizabeth soon after the Annunciation. Both women were pregnant at the same time.

John was probably born at Ain-Karim, which is southwest of Jerusalem.

As a young adult, he lived as a hermit in the desert of Judea until about A.D. 27. When he was 30, he began to preach on the banks of the Jordan, calling for repentance and baptizing people in the river waters, proclaiming that “the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”.

When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John recognized Jesus as the Messiah and baptized Him, saying: “It is I who need baptism from you.”


John continued to preach after Jesus was baptized, but was imprisoned not long after by Herod Antipas, after he denounced the king’s adulterous marriage with Herodias, wife of his half-brother Philip.

John was beheaded at the request of Salome, daughter of Herodias.


There are at least four relics believed to be John the Baptist’s head. One of them is in a mosque.
Different monasteries in Istanbul, Egypt, and Montenegro (among others) claim to have some of the Baptist’s relics. In fact, his right arm and right hand, with which he baptized Jesus, are still kept in the Topkapi Palace Museum, in Istanbul. The story goes that the head of the Baptist that is preserved today in Amiens, France was originally in Istanbul (then Constantinople) alongside this right arm, but the noted Crusader Wallon de Sarton brought it with him to France in the year 1206. The cathedral of Amiens was then built to house the relic, and immediately became a major pilgrimage destination.

The minor basilica of San Silvestro in Capite, in Rome, also has a head of the Baptist. The church, dedicated to Pope Sylvester I (hence, “San Silvestro”) was built in the 8th century as a shrine to keep relics from saints and martyrs originally held in various Roman catacombs.
The third alleged head of the Baptist is kept not in a church, but in the Residenz Museum of Munich, Germany.
The fourth head is kept in the Umayyad Mosque —better known as the Great Mosque of Damascus. Located in the “old city” sector, it is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world, and the fourth holiest site of Islam.

- Article by CT Staff


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