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The Beauty of Death: Catacomb Saints Photographed by Paul Koudounaris

St. Albertus

Skull of St. Getreu in Ursberg

St. Valerius in Weyarn

St. Benedictus

Hand of St. Valentin

St. Valentinus in Waldsassen

In 1578 word spread of the discovery in Rome of a network of underground tombs containing the remains of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many skeletons of these supposed saints were soon removed from their resting place and sent to Catholic churches in Europe to replace holy relics that were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Once in place the skeletons were then carefully reassembled and enshrined in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armor as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife.

Over the past few years photographer Paul Koudounaris who specializes in the photography of skeletal reliquaries, mummies and other aspects of death, managed to gain unprecendented access to various religious institutions to photograph many of these beautifully macabre shrines for the first time in history. The photos have been collected into a book titled Heavenly Bodies released by Thames & Hudson.

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