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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!

St Felix, Sursee, Switzerland

Hand of St. Valentin

St. Benedictus

Deodatus skull relic

Relic of St. Deodatus in Rheinau

St. Luciana

Skull of St. Getreu in Ursberg

St. Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk

St. Valentinus in Waldsassen

In Stams, Austria

St. Munditia grasps a flask

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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Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

One reply on “Medieval Bling: Skeletons Encrusted in Jewels and Gold”

  1. and we think people waste their money these days. sur, they’re pretty, but when you consider how many people they could have take care of, suddenly they’re not so pretty anymore. a rather disgusting waste for ego and one-ups-manship.

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