He issued an edict that all relics lacking a definite provenance should be tossed out. Even as many celebrate St. Valentine's Day without thought to the story of the saint, and the Church has lowered its … The newly discovered holy remains, however, could restock the shelves and restore the morale of those parishes that had been ransacked.The holy bodies became wildly sought-after treasures. A 400-year-old jewel-encrusted skeleton of St Valentinus in Waldsassen, Bavaria. They spun fine mesh gauze, which they used to delicately wrap each bone. The subterranean chamber proved to be full of countless skeletal remains, presumably dating back to the first three centuries following Christianity’s emergence, when thousands were persecuted for practicing the still-outlawed religion. An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 souls—mostly Christians but including some pagans and Jews—found a final resting place in the sprawling Roman catacombs.For hundreds of skeletons, however, that resting place would prove anything but final. “It was then that I realized there’s something much broader and more spectacular going on,” he says.Koudounaris could not get the figures’ twinkling eyes and gold-adorned grins out of his mind. It was propped upright, decked out in robes befitting a king, and holding out a glass vial, which Koudounaris later learned would have been believed to contain the skeleton’s own blood. If they found “M.” engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome. Another had been wrapped in cloth and stuck in a box in a German church, likely untouched for 200 years.After examining around 250 of these skeletons, Koudounaris concluded, “They’re the finest pieces of art ever created in human bone.” Though today many of the heavenly bodies suffer from pests burrowing through their bones and dust gathering on their faded silk robes, in Koudounaris’ photos they shine once more, provoking thoughts of the people they once were, the hands that once adorned them and the worshipers who once fell at their feet.
When he returned to that original German village several years later, for example, he found that a salvage company had torn down the forest church. He was decorated in the late 17th century and became associated with the legend of a feral white cat, which some believed was his ghost that prowled the village to check on its residents. “People still believed in these skeletons.”Not all of the holy skeletons were lost during the 18th-entury purges, however. Decide that this is instead the perfect time to attempt to make yourself look like an ostentatiously bejeweled skeleton residing in a provincial Catholic church in …

Likewise, jewels and gold were often donated or paid for by a private enterprise. The skeletons certainly lacked that. If they found “M.” engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome.

He issued an edict that all relics lacking a definite provenance should be tossed out. He found one skeleton in the back of a parking-garage storage unit in Switzerland. 6. This prevented dust from settling on the fragile material and created a medium for attaching decorations.

“My main objective in writing the book is to present and re-contextualize these things as outstanding works of art.” “From my perspective as someone who studies art history, the question of who the catacomb saints were in life becomes secondary to the achievement of creating them,” he continues.
After identifying a skeleton as holy, the Vatican then decided who was who and issued the title of martyr. For a small church, the most effective means of obtaining a set of the coveted remains was a personal connection with someone in Rome, particularly one of the papal guards. The skeleton was vandalized in the 20th century -- its skull was stolen, but later returned and placed back in its helmet." For every 10 bodies that disappeared in the 18th and 19th centuries, Koudounaris estimates, nine are gone.In other cases, leads—which he gathered through traveler’s accounts, parish archives and even Protestant writings about the Catholic “necromancers”—did pan out. Local people would often weep and follow their patron skeleton as it was taken from its revered position and dismembered by the nobles. In Northern Europe—especially in Germany, where anti-Catholic sentiment was most fervent—Catholic churches had suffered from plunderers and vandals during the Protestant Revolution over the past several decades. It could take up to three years, depending on the size of the team at work. She is no longer displayed in the church, but is kept in a small museum on the property. Though largely neglected by history, the skeletons, he found, had plenty to say.On May 31, 1578, local vineyard workers discovered that a hollow along Rome’s Via Salaria, a road traversing the boot of Italy, led to a catacomb. “But it has the opposite effect today.

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