The Most Beautiful DEAD: Photographs Of Europe’s Jeweled Skeletons

Source: atlasobscura.com

Detail of the hand of St. Valentin in Bad Schussenreid, Germany, one of a number of Katakombenheiligen (Roman catacombs saints) named for the popular Italian saint. (copyright Paul Koudounaris)

The afterlife is just more elegant for some of us. In a state of repose in churches around Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are these jeweled skeletons ornately decked out for their eternal rest. Yet despite their fascinating garb, they have been almost forgotten.

The arrival of St. Albertus’ remains from the Roman Catacombs in 1723 was a source of great excitement for the parishioners of the church of St. George in Burgrain, Germany, offering both a tangible connection to the early Christian martyrs and a glimpse of the heavenly treasures that awaited the faithful. (copyright Paul Koudounaris)

A new book coming out this October by LA-based photographer and author Paul Koudounaris — called Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, published by Thames & Hudson — brings these beautiful corpses out of obscurity. Back in 2011, Koudounaris published a book on ossuaries called The Empire of Death, and here he takes a step further into the religious veneration of sacred remains.

Detail of the hand of St. Valentin in Bad Schussenreid, Germany, one of a number of Katakombenheiligen (Roman catacombs saints) named for the popular Italian saint. (copyright Paul Koudounaris)

The jeweled skeletons were originally found in catacombs beneath Rome in 1578, and distributed as replacements under the belief they were Christian martyrs to churches that had lost their saint relics in the Reformation. However, for most, their identities were not known. The receiving churches then spent years covering the revered skeletal strangers with jewels and golden clothing, even filling their eye sockets and sometimes adorning their teeth with finery. Yet when the Enlightenment came around they became a little embarrassing for the sheer amount of money and excess they represented, and many were hidden away or disappeared. Koudounaris tracked down the dead survivors.

At Atlas Obscura, we’re not unfamiliar with the beautiful dead, from the painted skulls of theHallstatt Charnel House to elaborate wax and bones saints like Saint Vincent de Paul in Paris, but the skeletons in Heavenly Bodies take ornamentation to a new level. Here are a few from for proof, with captions from the book that give some insight into how these skeletons came to be so glamorous… continue reading at atlasobscura.com

Categories: Europe

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