Paul Koudounaris, who is also known by his nickname ‘Indiana Bones’ is an novelist, photographer and principal professional on bone-decorated sites and ossuarys. Earlier in 2013, Koudounaris published a book featuring high definition images of that 400-year-old ‘catacomb saints’ of Rome, a group of corpses that were painstakingly ornamented with gems and finery prior to being offered as remnants of saints to congregations across Europe.
Through the Protestant Overhaul of that 16th Century, Catholic church buildings were routinely stripped of these relics, symbols and finery. So as to counter this, The Vatican had ancient skeletons removed out of the Catacombs of Rome and copiously adorned as a remnants of recognized saints.
Even though typically forgotten until Koudounaris released his book, the catacomb saints still fascinate interested parties; they may still inspire religious zeal. In 1977, the town of Ruttenbach in Bavaria labored hard to gain enough funds to purchase back two of the original saints from confidential collectors, the decorative skeletons had originally been auctioned off in 1803.
The book, which Koudounaris has cautiously titled ‘Heavenly Bodies’ sees its writer attempt to locate and photograph each of these present tomb saints.
In their prime (a period that lasted over 200 years before finally coming to a close in the 19th century), the saints travelled all over the place, being transported at enormous expense by the Church. They were recognized as objects of affection, or conduits for prayer.
However the saints could appear strange to contemporary eyes (one Telegraph reporter described them as ‘ghastly’), it’s important to keep in mind that those who prayed at the feet of those gilded cadavers were considerably closer to death than their contemporary counterparts. In the wake of The Black Death (which recurred repeatedly all through Europe from the 14th to the 17th Centuries), art, literature and also worship had come to accept such ghoulish, macabre metaphors.
The remnants were regularly decked out by nuns and often located in a choice of realistic poses, before being protected in glass cabinets. Some of our scrupulous decoration took as long as five years to complete, with jewellery and costumes being acutely impressive.
Koudounaris’ book, ‘Heavenly Bodies’ is available now.