Paul Koudounaris, who’s also known by his nickname ‘Indiana Bones’ is an writer, photographer and top authority on bone-decorated places and ossuarys. Earlier this year, Koudounaris published a book featuring high definition imagery of that 400-year-old ‘catacomb saints’ of Rome, a bunch of corpses that had been painstakingly decorated with jewelry and finery ahead of being offered as ruins of saints to congregations across Europe.
Through the Protestant Reformation of that 16th Century, Catholic churches were routinely stripped of their relics, cryptogram and finery. So they can counter this, The Vatican had ancient skeletons removed out of the Catacombs of Rome and copiously adorned as a remains of acknowledged saints.
Though typically forgotten until Koudounaris released his book, the catacomb saints continue to fascinate interested parties; they can still inspire religious zeal. In 1977, the settlement of Ruttenbach in Bavaria labored hard to raise sufficient money to purchase back 2 of their original saints from confidential collectors, the ornamental skeletons had originally been auctioned off in 1803.
The book, which Koudounaris has cautiously titled ‘Heavenly Bodies’ sees its author attempt to find and photograph each of the surviving tomb saints.
In his glory days (a period that lasted over 200 years before conclusively coming to a close within the 19th century), the saints travelled far and wide, being transported at great expense by the Church. They were venerated as things of care, or conduits for prayer.
Though the saints may seem strange to contemporary eyes (one Telegraph reporter described them as ‘ghastly’), it is vital that you understand that those who prayed at the feet of these gilded cadavers were a lot nearer to demise than their modern counterparts. Within the wake of The Black Death (which recurred regularly throughout Europe from the 14th to the 17th Centuries), art, literature and even worship had moved to accept such ghoulish, macabre imagery.
The remnants were typically adorned by nuns and often placed in a choice of natural poses, before being protected in glass cabinets. Some of our careful decoration took as long as five years to finish, with jewellery and costumes being particularly grand.
Koudounaris’ book, ‘Heavenly Bodies’ is out there now.