Koudounaris’ book, ‘Heavenly Bodies’ is available now.

Paul Koudounaris, who’s also known by his nickname ‘Indiana Bones’ is an novelist, photographer and foremost authority on bone-decorated sites and ossuarys. Earlier this year, Koudounaris released a book featuring high definition images of that 400-year-old ‘catacomb saints’ of Rome, a group of corpses that was painstakingly decorated with ornaments and finery ahead of being offered as the remnants of saints to congregations across Europe.

In the Protestant Reorganization of the 16th Century, Catholic churches were routinely stripped of these relics, symbols and finery. So they can counter this, The Vatican had very old skeletons removed from the Catacombs of Rome and lavishly bejeweled as a remnants of recognizable saints.

Though regularly forgotten until Koudounaris published his book, the catacomb saints still fascinate concerned parties; they can also still encourage religious zeal. In 1977, the town of Ruttenbach in Bavaria worked hard to gain sufficient funds to buy back two of the primary saints from confidential collectors, the ornamental skeletons had originally been auctioned off in 1803.

The book, which Koudounaris has surreptitiously titled ‘Heavenly Bodies’ sees its writer attempt to locate and photograph each of the present crypt saints.

In his prime (a period that lasted over 200 years before decisively coming to a close in the 19th century), the saints travelled all over the place, being transported at enormous expense by the Church. They were respected as things of care, or conduits for prayer.

Although the saints may seem unusual to contemporary eyes (one Telegraph reporter described these as ‘ghastly’), it’s important to realise those who prayed at the feet of the gilded cadavers were considerably nearer to death than their contemporary counterparts. While in the wake of The Black Death (which recurred often all through Europe from the 14th to the 17th Centuries), art, literature and also worship had come to embrace such ghoulish, macabre imagery.

The remains were usually decorated by nuns and sometimes located in a choice of lifelike poses, before being protected in glass cabinets. Some of our meticulous decoration took as long as five years to finish, with jewellery and costumes being acutely impressive.

Koudounaris’ book, ‘Heavenly Bodies’ is on the market now.

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