An excavation at the Balatlar Church in Turkey’s Sinop Province uncovered the chest, which is made out of stone with crosses carved into it and appears to have been a repository for the relics of a holy person, according to excavation team leader Gülgün Köroglu.
“We have found a holy thing in a chest. It is a piece of a cross, and we think it was (part of the cross on which Jesus was crucified),” Köroglu told the Hurriyet Daily News. “This stone chest is very important to us. It has a history and is the most important artifact we have unearthed so far.”
Debate exists about what happened to Jesus’ cross after his crucifixion. According to legend, Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, found the cross in Jerusalem and shared pieces of it with churches throughout Rome, Jerusalem and Constantinople, which was located in present-day Istanbul in Turkey.
Historians disagree about how many true relics exist, according to NBC News. 19th-century French archaeologist Charles Rohault de Fleury said all catalogued relics would make up less than the third of the cross, while 16th-century Protestant theologian John Calvin joked that all the relics put together would “make a big shipload.”
The discovery by Köroglu’s team has been sent to a lab for further testing.
The excavation, which has been ongoing since 2009, is part of an EU-funded Field Management Project. Köroglu’s team has also found more than 1,000 skeletons at the site since the start of the dig.