Small Objects of Desire #73 – Bones

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.
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St Albertus

St Albertus

St Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk, Austria

St Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk, Austria

St Valentinus in Waldsassen Basilica, Bavaria

St Valentinus in Waldsassen Basilica, Bavaria

St. Valerius in Weyarn, Germany

St. Valerius in Weyarn, Germany

Hand of St Valentinus

Hand of St Valentinus

St Getreu in Ursberg, Germany

St Getreu in Ursberg, Germany

St Benedictus

St Benedictus

St Deodatus in Rheinau, Switzerland

St Deodatus in Rheinau, Switzerland