For the Halloween edition of our blog, we introduce you to the spooky collection of bejeweled skeletons recently revealed by art historian and relic hunter Paul Koudounaris, also known as “Indiana Bones.”
The elaborate skeletons, which were hidden for centuries in churches throughout Europe, are the subject of Koudounaris’ new book, “Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs.” According to the Daily Mail, Koudounaris hunted down and photographed dozens of eerie, but beautifully adorned, skeletons in the world’s most secretive religious establishments.
The Los Angeles-based Koudounaris believes the skeletons are about 2,000 years old and were removed from Roman catacombs during the 16th century on the orders of the Vatican. The relic hunter explained that the skeletons were certified by Vatican officials as early Christian martyrs and became sacred subjects known as “catacomb saints.”
The catacomb saints were preserved with a glue-like substance made from animal fat and then painstakingly decorated with a bounty of gold, silver, pearls and gemstones — a task that could take up to five years.
Once completed, the adorned skeletons were displayed in Catholic churches throughout Europe as a tangible reminder of the spiritual treasures of the afterlife.
By the 19th century, the blinged-out skeletons fell into disfavor, as they really weren’t saints at all, and posed an embarrassment to the church. They were removed from display and hidden away in lock-ups and containers, according to Koudounaris.
“One of the reasons they were so important was not for their spiritual merit, which was pretty dubious, but for their social importance,” Koudounaris told the Daily Mail. “They were thought to be miraculous and really solidified people's bond with a town. This reaffirmed the prestige of the town itself.”