‘Jewel Encrusted Skeleton ‘Saints’ Make Headlines Round the World’

Paul Koudounaris, who is also called by his nickname ‘Indiana Bones’ in known as an novelist, photographer and foremost specialist on bone-decorated sites and ossuarys. Earlier in 2013, Koudounaris published a book featuring hd imagery of the 400-year-old ‘catacomb saints’ of Rome, a group of corpses that had been painstakingly decked with gems and finery before being presented as remnants of saints to congregations across Europe.

Through the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century, Catholic church buildings were routinely stripped of these relics, symbols and finery. So they can defy this, The Vatican had ancient skeletons removed from the Catacombs of Rome and lavishly bejeweled as the remains of recognizable saints.

Although typically forgotten until Koudounaris published his book, the catacomb saints continue to fascinate interested parties; they can also still encourage religious zeal. In 1977, the township of Ruttenbach in Bavaria worked hard to raise sufficient money to buy back 2 of the primary saints from secretive collectors, the decorative skeletons had originally been auctioned off in 1803.

The book, which Koudounaris has surreptitiously titled ‘Heavenly Bodies’ sees its writer attempt to locate and photograph each of these existing catacomb saints.

In his prime (a era that lasted over 200 years before decisively coming to a close within the 19th century), the saints traversed in all places, being transported at vast expense by the Church. They were adored as objects of care, or conduits for prayer.

Though the saints could appear unusual to contemporary eyes (one Telegraph reporter described these as ‘ghastly’), it’s important to keep in mind that people who prayed at the feet of these gilded cadavers were a lot nearer to demise than their contemporary counterparts. While in the wake of The Black Death (which recurred repeatedly throughout Europe from the 14th to the 17th Centuries), art, literature and even worship had come to accept such ghoulish, macabre images.

The remains were usually garlanded by nuns and sometimes placed in various authentic poses, before being secured in glass cabinets. Some of the meticulous decoration took as long as five years to finish, with jewelry and costumes being particularly grand.

Koudounaris’ book, ‘Heavenly Bodies’ is out there now.