Relic-Hunter Documents Ornately Decorated Skeletons Found In Tombs Beneath Rome

Jun 8, 2015 By Stacey Leigh

Los Angeles author, photographer and self-proclaimed relic-hunter Paul Koudounaris traveled Europe to document a very unusual historical phenomenon. 

A labyrinth of ancient tombs was discovered beneath Rome, containing what is thought to be the remains of early Christian martyrs. 

Named the "Catacomb Saints," the skeletons were adorned with riches and jewels for display in the early churches. 

Their presence was meant to remind the church congregation of the riches that await them when they die, which they were rewarded with for their loyalty.

When Koudounaris set out to document them, many had not been exhibited for years.

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They had been distributed throughout Europe to replace relics looted during the Protestant Reformation by order of the Vatican.

They were given fictitious names since their actual identities have been lost to time.

Several of the skeletons have gone traveling, finding themselves in storage, being auctioned off and eventually returning to a church.

Some of the skeletons took up to five years to decorate. The task often fell to nuns.

None of them qualify as saints under the Vatican's rules of canonization, but they are casually referred to as saints regardless.

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By the 19th century, the church had grown embarrassed of the skeletons and hid most of them away as a quaint relic from a distant past.

The biggest impact of the Catacomb Saints was giving the townspeople a point of pride in their individual church.

Koudounaris has collected his photos into a book, "Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs."

Via: Aunty Acid | Paul Koudounaris via Facebook

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