St. Valerius in Weyarn (all images copyright Paul Koudounaries and courtesy Thames & Hudson)
In a forthcoming book titled Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, Los Angeles photographer Paul Koudounaris brings before his lens bejeweled skeletons long-lost in the catacombs of Rome. The remains were first unearthed in 1578, when they were disbursed throughout Catholic christendom as saintly relics. But according to Koudounaris, who also penned a 2011 volume on the subject, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, the true identities of the skeletons remains a mystery.
The relics, all opulent finery bleating against the stiff repose of death, reprise and damn the famous “almost-instinct” expressed in the closing lines of Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb”: if love won’t survive us, at least the gaudy ornaments of material piety might. Hope everyone had a terrific Fashion Week!
St. Felix, Sursee, Switzerland
Hand of St. Valentin
Deodatus skull relic
Relic of St. Deodatus in Rheinau
Skull of St. Getreu in Ursberg
St. Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk
St. Valentinus in Waldsassen
In Stams, Austria
St. Munditia grasps a flask
Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs by Paul Koudounaris will be released on October 8, 2013 by Thames & Hudson.