Archaeologists in Turkey are claiming that they have found the tomb of St. Philip the Apostle during a recent excavation in the city of Hierapolis. Archaeologist Francesco D’Andria argues that writing on the tomb, as well as its general location near the site of Hieropolis, where he was martyred, attest to it being the location of St. Philip’s tomb. The question is whether these writings, to which we are not privy to, are enough to determine that this was the tomb of St. Philip. The claim has already come into question by other news sources, arguing that there are many problems with this argument. First, it is unknown where exactly St. Philip the Apostle was martyred. The Catholic Church does not support the notion that he was martyred at Hieropolis due to the claims of this being written centuries after his death. Second, the tomb itself has not been opened nor have details of the inscriptions themselves been released. Given that the current statements regarding this find are all from the press, we must also call into doubt whether this is a clear reflection of what archaeologists think was found. The question here is whether we have a true case of the tomb of a saint being found and if there is enough evidence to prove it. With a lack of accurate information from the Bible regarding the location of his death, and potential historical confusion of Philip the Apostle and Philip the Deacon (see Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Philip). There are also claims that the remains of St. Philip rest in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome with those of St. James the Just.
The tombs and remains of Saints are surprisingly not hard to come by in the archaeological world, although usually they are lesser saints and date to later time periods. However, once Christianity became safe to practice in Rome, the remains of potentially seven of the twelve apostles were placed in Christian churches there. The tomb of St. Peter is supposedly beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Rome. The tomb not only lies near the spot of his martyrdom, the Circus of Nero, but also correlates with biblical sources. The Vatican also claims to have portions of the remains of St. Jude (Thaddeus) and St. Simon the Zealot.
The sarcophagus of St. Paul was supposedly uncovered in 2006 beneath Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls in Rome. The sarcophagus was found underneath the altar with a marble plaque that stated “Paul Apostolo, Mart.” meaning Paul the Apostle, Martyr. While the tomb was uncovered, and is now on display, it hasn’t been opened in order to authenticate. The finding of the sarcophagus there confirms Biblical history and where it was reported for centuries that St. Paul lay, and combined with the plaque it is highly plausible. What could confirm whether this is indeed his sarcophagus is to examine the remains. According to history, Paul was beheaded and his skull was taken to Basilica of Saint John Lateran. The Basilica also claims to have the head of St. Peter, which rests with St. Paul behind the altar.
DNA testing was done in 2001 on a skeleton that was reported to be the remains of St. Luke. According to historical texts, St. Luke was born in Antioch in Syria about 70 CE and died in the Greek city of Thebes at the age of 84. His body was then moved to Istanbel, and then finally taken to Padua in the 12th century. DNA testing showed that the remains did indeed belong to a Syrian man who was older, and was alive between the 1st and 4th centuries. What is problematic is the high error in the radiocarbon date, as well as no clear timeline of what happened to Luke during his life and after his death. It still isn’t clear whether these are Luke’s remains, but the probability is higher given the DNA testing.
Dealing with the remains of saints is a delicate subject. Not only are they subject to media distortion and can easily be turned into a spectacle, but given their religious nature we need to be careful about how we approach them. Religious documents and figures are extremely important to the vast majority of the population, so when approaching the analysis of a saint or any religious artifact we need to approach it cautiously and let the evidence speak for itself. Are these the remains of saints? It would be very difficult to prove, so all we can hope for now is that impostors are identified.
Vernesi et al. 2001 Genetic Characterization of the Body Attributed to the Evangelist Luke. In PNAS. http://web.unife.it/progetti/genetica/Guido/pdf/18.pdf
Life in Italy. 2011. Tombs of the Apostles. http://www.lifeinitaly.com/religion/apostles-tombs.asp
Valsecchi 2006. St. Paul’s Tomb. In National Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/12/061211-saint-paul.html
News Core 2011. Tomb of St. Philip the Apostle Found in Turkey. Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/07/27/tomb-st-philip-apostle-discovered-in-turkey/