The Gem-Encrusted Dead Saints of Rome’s Catacombs Revealed

In the 16th century a veritable treasure trove of deceased martyrs was unearthed beneath rome. Buried in the city’s labyrinthine catacombs for centuries, these bodies were believed to be many of Christianity’s earliest saints, those who died for their faith in the first days of Christ. Verifying the accuracy of this belief has proven difficult to this day, but nonetheless the Church saw the opportunity to raise capital and restore some of the mythical reverence to churches that had been stripped of their iconography by Protestant protestors, so the skeletons were distributed to churches all over Europe. The church was able to make a pretty penny from fees leveed for transportation, decoration, and protection of these holy figures, and in turn they delivered some exceptionally bedazzled and truly saintly looking dead bodies.

Many of these jewel encrusted skeletons have remained hidden in their respective resting places since their initial distribution. Only a few have made it as far as official museum display. Recently, however, historian Paul Koudounaris has traveled the world to uncover, research, and photograph these dubiously holy but undisputedly gorgeous dead people. The photographs from his journeys are captivating, showcasing the decadent excess of the Church frozen in time, cemented hand in hand with death.


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