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.
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.
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.
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.
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 arrived in 1761 and was decorated to match St Irenaus, brought over a century before by Johann Rudolf Pfyffer of the papal Swiss Guard.
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 is presented in a typical reclining pose and holds laurel branch as a sign of victory.
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’ ribs are exposed beneath a web of golden leaves. The hand raised to cover the face is a gesture of modesty.