AUGUST 29 is the traditional memorial of THE BEHEADING OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST. However, the beheading was actually just before Passover. The date of August 29 was chosen because that was the date that Emperor Constantine and Empress Helena had a church they built over the burial site consecrated.

John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. He was the baptizer of Jesus, as he was the baptizer of so many, in the River Jordan. And that day, John recognized Jesus as the Messiah when the Holy Spirit descended. This man preached a life of repentance and preparation for the Coming of this Messiah.

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, the slayer of the babies in Bethlehem and surrounds. The son was the ruler of Galilee until 39AD. As a young man, he had married the daughter of Arab prince Aretas. At some point, Herod set his wife aside and took Herodias, wife of his brother Philip, as his mistress.

St. John stood up to the immorality of the king and denounced Herod to the crowds. Herod had his soldiers arrest the preacher somewhere between 27 and 29 AD. He was thrown into prison for several years.

Just before Passover, possibly 32 AD, Herod held a lavish party at the fortress Machaerus in celebration of his birthday. His young step-daughter, the child of Herodias and Philip, danced before the group. The drunk man was so impressed that he offered her anything she wanted. Salome went to her mother for advice. Of course, Herodias would want nothing better than to shut up the prisoner whose words irritated her so. She wanted his head on a silver platter. And this is what Salome asked. It would appear that the prisoner was local, for the servants were sent to decapitate and present the head during the party. “And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her: but sending an executioner, he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish.” Mk vi. 26, 27

John’s disciples were able to rescue the body and bury it with honors at Sebaste, not far away. The head was treated poorly. Herodias pierced the tongue multiple times and buried the head in a dung heap. It was found and reburied multiple times over the course of the centuries, including one time in the Mount of Olives, to the point that no one is sure of its true identity.

Meanwhile, Herod ending up suffering for his actions. Prince Aretas, his father-in-law, sought to defend his daughter’s honor. He took his army and attacked Herod a few years later, 39 AD. The king was defeated. Herod was arrested and sent to Rome where he was sentenced to exile in Gaul by the emperor Caligula. Then, he and Herodias were sent to Spain, where they lived, it is said, in poverty and humiliation. Salome apparently died on the Sikaris River in Spain, breaking through the ice.