Photo Essays

Medieval Bling: Skeletons Encrusted in Jewels and Gold

by Mostafa Heddaya on September 13, 2013

p.12-3 St Valerius in Weyarn_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Valerius in Weyarn (all images copyright Paul Koudounaries and courtesy Thames & Hudson)

In a forthcoming book titled Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, Los Angeles photographer Paul Koudounaris brings before his lens bejeweled skeletons long-lost in the catacombs of Rome. The remains were first unearthed in 1578, when they were disbursed throughout Catholic christendom as saintly relics. But according to Koudounaris, who also penned a 2011 volume on the subject, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, the true identities of the skeletons remains a mystery.

The relics, all opulent finery bleating against the stiff repose of death, reprise and damn the famous “almost-instinct” expressed in the closing lines of Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb“: if love won’t survive us, at least the gaudy ornaments of material piety might. Hope everyone had a terrific Fashion Week!

p.34 copyright Paul Koudounaris

St Felix, Sursee, Switzerland

p.47 hand of St Valentin_copyright Paul Koudounaris

Hand of St. Valentin

p.48-9 St Benedictus_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Benedictus

p.50 Deodatus skull relic_copyright  Paul Koudounaris

Deodatus skull relic

p.56 relic of St Deodatus in Rheinau_copyrightPaul Koudounaris

Relic of St. Deodatus in Rheinau

p.61 St Luciana_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Luciana

p.70-1 skull of St Getreu in Ursberg_copyright Paul Koudounaris

Skull of St. Getreu in Ursberg

p.78-9 St Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk

p.84 St Valentinus in Waldsassen_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Valentinus in Waldsassen

p.88-9 In Stams, Austria_copyright Paul Koudounaris

In Stams, Austria

p.147 St Munditia grasps a flask_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Munditia grasps a flask

p.22 St Albertus_copyright  Paul Koudounaris

St. Albertus

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs by Paul Koudounaris will be released on October 8, 2013 by Thames & Hudson.

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