Russian President visited the Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world where the head of St. John The Baptist is being held. Vladimir Putin presented the mosque with a 17th century Quran as a memory of his visit. Afterward, the President of Russia visited the Mariamite Cathedral, where he spoke with Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East.
According to different traditions, no fewer than four locations lay claim to the murdered saint’s head. In Damascus, Syria, the Umayyad Mosque was built in the eighth century A.D. on the site of a Christian church named for John the Baptist; his head is said to be buried in a shrine there. 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. 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. And 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.
The video shows a cozy Christmas bazaar inside a church, where the believers traded homemade sweets, decorations, ornaments and even locally made wine.
Santa Claus and the elves are among the decorations, and several costumed Santas can be seen both inside and outside. Several trees strung with flashing lights and ornaments are also on display. It could be a scene from anywhere in the West, and only signs in Arabic suggest otherwise.
Putin’s plane touched down in Syria on Tuesday, to everyone’s surprise, as the president was last spotted in St. Petersburg the evening before, attending the Orthodox Christmas Eve service.
His unannounced trip included not only talks about fighting terrorism with Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also visits to the city’s historic religious sites. After the talks, Putin and Assad took a walk through the center of Damascus, stopping at the Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque.
One of the largest and oldest mosques in the world hosts the head of John the Baptist, who is also venerated in Islam as Prophet Yahya. The relic was shown to the Russian leader, who responded in the manner of a good guest, presenting the mosque with a 17th-century copy of the Koran.
The two leaders then headed to the oldest Orthodox church in Syria, the Mariamite Cathedral, built during the second century. It’s the seat of John X, the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, who greeted the high-ranked guests.
The Patriarch thanked Putin for sending the Russian military to assist Syria in the fight against terrorists. Without this help, the church could’ve now been the headquarters of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or some militant warlord, he said.