Beneath the ancient city of Rome is a fascinating and somewhat baffling maze of tombs, first discovered in 1578. The tombs house skeletons of early Christian martyrs who the ancients believed to be saints due to their bravery and unwavering loyalty to the Christian religion.
Named “The Catacomb Saints” by those who first discovered them, the skeletons were distributed across Europe (mainly Germany) to replace holy relics that were destroyed or stolen during the Protestant Reformation.
Upon arrival at their destination they were decorated with precious jewels, expensive cloth, crowns, armor, and even wigs. They were then put on display in churches to remind visitors of the riches that await good, loyal Christians once they die.
Art historian and self-proclaimed relic-hunter Paul Koudounaris developed a profound fascination for the discovery and subsequent story behind the Saints. He traveled the whole of Europe in an attempt to track down each Saint. He discovered that despite their original purpose, many of them had yet to be displayed and were still waiting to be adorned with decorations.
His new book, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints From the Catacombs details this fascinating story, its origins, and the complete history of the Catacomb Saints.
This book is one of the most elaborate and compelling stories forgotten relics. In addition to the fascinating stories behind who the saints were and which churches wanted them for display, the book also contains beautiful pictures of the ancient relics, some of which we’ve included below.