We all know the story from Sunday School about the Biblical Prophet Daniel who was thrown into the lion’s den. If not, allow me to summarize…
Daniel was well respected and very true to his faith. As a loyal and devout servant, he came to the attention of King Darius who promoted Daniel to a very high position. After receiving such a promotion, Daniel’s rivals were jealous and began plotting a way to get him fired. Now everyone knew that the King’s law was absolute, so these jealous rivals came up with a plan to get Daniel to break the law. As Daniel was a devout man of God, these scheming rivals convinced King Darius to enact a law making it illegal for anyone to pray to any other Gods except the King. The penalty for disobeying the King? Get thrown in the lion’s den and face certain death.
Daniel heard about the law, but as a devout man of God, did not change his routine of praying three times a day in an upstairs room where the windows opened in the direction of Jerusalem. The jealous rivals observed this and reported back to the King what Daniel had done. They reminded the King what he had decreed, which now could not be repealed according to the law of the land. Most reluctantly, the King was forced to give the order, and Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den which was then sealed with a stone.
King Darius was unable to eat or sleep that night because of what he had done. As the sun rose the next morning, the King ran to the lion’s den and called out to Daniel in the hope that God had spared his life. To the King’s amazement, Daniel replied! God had saved him. Daniel’s rivals and their families, however, did not fare so well.
So the question now is, how did the Old Testament Prophet Daniel end up entombed in Uzbekistan? There are apparently several official Mausoleums of Daniel scattered all over the world, but legend has it that Amir Timur himself, after his military conquest of Asia Minor, brought back the relics of St. Daniel to Samarkand.
The legend says that the spirit of St. Daniel guarded the Iranian city of Susa. So powerful was the protection afforded over the city by Daniel’s spirit, that not even the mighty army of Timur the Great could defeat the town. Timur called off the siege, went to Daniel’s tomb and prayed. When he was finished praying, Timur took some relics with him back to Samarkand where they remain to this day.
St. Daniel’s relics were buried by Timur on a hillside of the remnants of the ancient city of Afrasiyab, along the Siab river, just outside Samarkand. A mosque was built on the site of the burial, but the current mausoleum dates from the early 20th century, replacing a series of earlier mausoleums on the site which needed to be expanded … due to the growth of the relics inside the tomb! In 1912 the Russian Imperial administration ordered the local Muslim authorities to “stop the growth of the deceased” which seems to have at least temporarily made it unnecessary to expand the tomb any further since.
The mausoleum we can see today is part of the greater Khoja Donier complex which serves as a pilgrimage site for the devout of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths. The five domed mausoleum extends 18 meters (60 feet) in length to contain the growing remains of the Old Testament prophet. Another legend says that when the caravan carrying St. Daniel’s remains reached the burial site, a spring appeared where the horse’s foot touched the ground. Today this spring, which is contained within a domed sardoba, is said to have healing properties. Another miracle of the site occurred following a visit by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow in 1996. The Patriarch blessed a dried out pistachio tree near the tomb, which subsequently miraculously recovered.
Who, if anyone, is actually buried here we may never know for sure, but the fact that such a storied monument can peacefully unite three of the major world religions cannot be understated. Along with the rest of Samarkand, the Khoja Donier complex was named part of “Samarkand – the Crossroads of Cultures” as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. While quite a hike from the historic center, if spending at least a few days in Samarkand, it’s worth the 2km trek over the ancient remains of Afrasiyab to investigate the mysterious legacy of Daniel’s tomb.