Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs

Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs


An intriguing visual history of the veneration in European churches and monasteries of bejeweled and decorated skeletons Death has never looked so beautiful. The fully articulated skeleton of a female saint, dressed in an intricate costume of silk brocade and gold lace, withered fingers glittering with colorful rubies, emeralds, and pearls―this is only one of the specially photographed relics featured in Heavenly Bodies.In 1578 news came of the discovery in Rome of a labyrinth of underground …

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St. Konstantious skeleton from Rorschach, Switzerland.(r/WTF)

Ahh, one of my favorite historical tidbits!

In case anyone is curious about what’s going on here: in the late 16th/early 17th century (might want to fact check but I think it may have happened sometime in the 1570s), a huge network of tombs was found in Rome which held the bodies of thousands of supposed Christian martyrs/saints. The skeletons were excavated, cleaned, and sent to various churches all around German-speaking Europe to act as replacements for the thousands of relics lost during the Protestant Reformation. Often times when these churches would come into possession of of the bones, they would bring in mediums or nuns to communicate with the spirits of the “saints” to determine what pose they’d like to be displayed in and whether or not they’d like to be bejeweled. Once they were complete, they were put on display and would occasionally be marched around towns to be revered by the residents. The identifications which determined these bones to be those of saints, done by papal secretaries around the time they were discovered, were dubious to begin with and were later totally invalidated. As far as anybody knows, every single one of these badass skeletons could just be a random Roman person.

There’s a book on it called Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, which this picture is taken from. I really recommend finding the book and looking through it, it’s awesome.

Here are some more pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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Paul Koudounaris

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Thames & Hudson

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Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs

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St. Konstantious skeleton from Rorschach, Switzerland.

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