In this case, the extraordinarily bejewelled, macabre relics of saints.
When I first saw these skeletons, photographed by Paul Koudounaris, I thought they were plastic bones, specially styled to advertise the gems in a magazine. Or maybe they were photographs for a set on a film. But no, they are historical artifacts that were hidden for over a century in various religious institutions until the photographer gained unprecedented access to photograph them for a book called Heavenly Bodies.
1578, Rome. The discovery of a network of subterranean tombs believed to contain the remains of hundreds of early Christian martyrs. Several of these supposed saints were removed and sent to catholic churches all over Europe to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Once in situ, the bones were painstakingly reassembled and dressed in opulent costumes, wigs, jewels and armour and posed in shrines to remind the faithful of the rich treasures that would be theirs in heaven.
These are “the catacomb saints”. There is something quite pagan about the way they have been venerated and enshrined.
St Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk, Austria
St Valentinus in Waldsassen Basilica, Bavaria
St. Valerius in Weyarn, Germany
Hand of St Valentinus
St Getreu in Ursberg, Germany
St Deodatus in Rheinau, Switzerland
You’re not reading that headline wrong. Do you want to go here?
So you really do want go to the Red Planet. You really want to say sayonara to Earth, see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya, don’t call us, we’ll call you? What, despite the unbreathable atmosphere, the lack of water, the intense ultraviolet light, the sheer uncertainty of it all? Seriously? Is Earth really that unappealing?
Right, then. It would appear that you might be able to do exactly that in about 10 years time. Provided you successfully apply to an outfit called Mars One. And it seems this kind of quest has been on many people’s minds. Over 200,000 people have already applied and they come from all over the world – Iran, Russia, France, Chile, Qatar, the Philippines, India… but especially from the USA. And mostly men. I would love to ask them why it is such an attractive proposition. A small caveat about it though: they will fly only four people to Mars every two years! According to the website:
Mars One will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Crews of four will depart every two years, starting in 2024. Our first unmanned mission will be launched in 2018. Join the Global Mars One Community and participate in our mission to Mars.
I dunno. I often have dreams about flying and they frequently feature me flying in space. I’ve often thought that if I had the opportunity to go into space, I would do so in a heartbeat but to go and live on Mars? Leave terra firma and possibly never come back? That’s probably a frontier too far for me. And the movie Gravity scared the living daylights out of me. Call me cynical or unadventurous but I’m willing to bet that it won’t be quite as easy as Mars One would have it. It whiffs of a social experiment and I’m not quite ready to be one of those just yet. It could get very lonely. And boring. Earth might be all kinds of messed up because of humanity’s lack of care but it’s still home to me and I like its creature comforts. Besides, there’s still so much I would like to discover about it.
Yes, I would posit that a snake can be an object of desire. I don’t understand why but many people keep snakes as pets. Certainly, to a snake charmer a cobra is more than just an object of desire. And as for how thoroughly the serpent manipulated Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by playing on their desires…We are fascinated by them even while we recoil from them. I’m thinking about all those pictures I’ve seen of anacondas swallowing something as improbable as an alligator and killing themselves in the process because of their greed. Where were they when somebody said you should never attempt to eat anything that is bigger than your head?
Still they are God’s own creatures and they have been used as symbols of positivity and spirituality. Witness the Ouroboros, an ancient symbol of a snake devouring its own tail.
Not to mention the caduceus which is not to be confused with the Rod of Asclepius, a snake coiled around a wooden staff that is also the universal symbol of medicine and healthcare. The irony that something that represents poison is also something that represents healing is not lost on me.
The Rod of Asclepius
This piece of permanent public art rising out of the Loire River where it empties out into the Bay of Biscay near Nantes, France is called Serpent d’ocean. It’s a 130 metres long and created by the artist Huang Yong Ping. It makes me think of all the prehistoric leviathans that roamed the earth before human beings appeared. It connects us to our past and where we came from. It is an eye-catching piece of art that creates a point of startling interest on an otherwise bathetic stretch of beach. It shows us what it is possible to do in order to uplift the landscape without raping it. It’s a feat of artistic and engineering ingenuity. I really like it. It’s scary, exciting, startling and thought provoking. It makes a snake qualify as an object of desire.