Elaborately Jeweled Skeletons
In 1578, a series of underground burial sites were discovered in Rome that contained the remains of thousands of individuals assumed to be early Christian martyrs. However, most of their identities were unknown. The bones were disinterred and sent to churches around Europe to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Reformation.
The receiving churches spent years covering the revered skeletal remains with elaborate costumes encrusted with gold and precious gems. For nearly three hundred years, these relics were worshiped as saints and protectors of their communities. When questions and doubts about their authenticity arised in the modern era, the jewel-covered saints became a source of embarrassment and many were either hidden away or destroyed.
In a new book due out October 8, 2013 titled Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, author Paul Koudounaris covers their long and misunderstood history. The book includes images of more than seventy jeweled skeletons and stories of dozens more.
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