Spectacular Even in Death – Jeweled Skeletons of the Catacomb Saints

St. Valentinus in Waldsassen, copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Valentinus in Waldsassen, copyright Paul Koudounaris

What do you do when you’ve got a catacomb full of purported martyrs’ skeletons, and you want to remind the faithful of the heavenly treasures awaiting them? You bedazzle those bones with jewels, and then display the results in shrines! And when skeptics question the skeletons’ provenance and the gaudy display, you hide them away until someone comes along and writes a book …

St. Felix, copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Felix, copyright Paul Koudounaris

This all goes back to 1578, when thousands of skeletons were found in the Roman catacombs; the remains were assumed to be early Christian martyrs, and so they were packed up and sent to “many Catholic churches and religious houses in German-speaking Europe to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Protestant Reformation.”

The skeletons were put back together by skilled artisans, and then they were “encrusted with gold and jewels and richly dressed in fantastic costumes.” On display for nearly three hundred years, “these ‘Heavenly Bodies’ were venerated as miracle-workers and protectors of their communities.”

The book includes pictures of more than 70 jeweled skeletons, and it has the stories behind those and dozens more. Heavenly Bodies definitely seems like it would be an interesting read.

Get the book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, by Paul Koudounaris

Via Atlas Obscura

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct smaller.com; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.