About the book
Jewelled skeletons that revitalised the faith of Catholics during the Counter-Reformation in Europe are featured in a new book by art historian and photographer Paul Koudounaris.
In Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, Koudounaris captures images of more than 70 bodies, clad in intricate costumes and dazzling jewellery.
The skeletons were discovered in the Roman Catacombs
in the late 16th century. Believed to be the remains of early Christian martyrs, they were treated as sacred.
Sent to Catholic churches and religious houses in German-speaking Europe to replace the relics that had been destroyed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the skeletons were reassembled and richly adorned with precious jewels and costumes.
Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, published by Thames & Hudson, is available to purchase from 9 September.
St Valerius in Weyarn, Germany © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
St Benedictus © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
This St Benedictus was received by the church of St Michael even though it was not a Benedictine foundation but a court for Clemens August I of Bavaria.
St Albertus in the church of St George in Burgrain, Germany © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
The arrival of St Albertus’ remains from the Roman Catacombs in 1723 was a source of great excitement for the parishioners of the church. They offered a glimpse of the heavenly treasures that awaited the faithful.
Deodatus in Roggenburg, Germany © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
In addition to its four complete skeletons, the church in Roggenburg owns a pair of skull relics. This one was given the generic name of Deodatus, as its identity was unknown.
St Getreu in Ursberg, Germany © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
The skull of St Getreu in Ursberg is covered in silk mesh and fine wirework set with gemstones, which may have been done in Mindelheim, Germany.
St Felix in Sursee, Switzerland © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
St Felix arrived in 1761 and was decorated to match St Irenaus, brought over a century before by Johann Rudolf Pfyffer of the papal Swiss Guard.
St Valentin in Bad Schussenreid, Germany © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
Detail of the hand of St Valentin in Bad Schussenreid, Germany, one of a number of Katakombenheiligen named for the popular Italian saint.
St Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk, Austria © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
St Friedrich is presented in a typical reclining pose and holds laurel branch as a sign of victory.
St Valentinus in Waldsassen, Germany © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
Decorated by the skilled lay brother Adalbart Eder, St Valentinus wears a biretta and an elaborate, elegantly jewelled version of a deacon’s cassock to emphasise his ecclesiastical status.
St Vincentus in Stams, Austria © 2013 Paul Koudounaris
St Vincentus’ ribs are exposed beneath a web of golden leaves. The hand raised to cover the face is a gesture of modesty.