20 October 2021 The Future is the Product of the Past

Martyr Skeletons Dressed in Jewels “Catacomb Saints”

The story of the saints in the catacombs of Northern Europe is a peculiar story. It is rooted in the crisis of faith after the Reformation, prompting people to dramatically return to decorative materialism in the practice of worship.

The jeweled skeletons were discovered in catacombs under Rome in 1578 and given as replacements to churches that had lost their saint relics during the Reformation in the idea that they were Christian martyrs. However, for the most part, their identities were unknown. The receiving churches subsequently spent years lavishing diamonds and gold clothing on the respected skeleton strangers, even filling their eye sockets and sometimes decorating their teeth with finery. However, when the Enlightenment arrived, they were rather humiliating because of the huge amount of money and luxury they symbolized, and many were hidden away or vanished.

On May 31, 1578, vineyard workers in Rome discovered a passage leading to an extensive network of long-forgotten catacombs below Via Salaria. The Coemeterium Jordanorum (Jordanian Cemetery) and the surrounding catacombs were early Christian burial grounds, dating back to between the 1st and 5th centuries AD.

Photo: Paul Koudounaris

The Catholic Church had been fighting the Reformation for decades when these catacombs were discovered. Despite the fact that certain human remains had been revered as hallowed relics for centuries*, Protestant Reformers saw retaining relics as idolatry. Bodies, even the bodies of saints, were to decompose into dust. Countless relics were interred, defaced, or destroyed during the Reformation.

Relics have long been popular among the laity, and the Counter-Reformation used the shipment of fresh holy relics into German-speaking nations as a strategy. They needed to replace what had been lost, but where would they find new saints?

Photo: Paul Koudounaris

The bones themselves came from the re-discovery of the Roman catacombs in c 1578. For the following several decades, the underground catacombs were found, robbed by tomb robbers, and the bones, skeletons, clavicles, and other relics of victims were sold to various Catholic churches as relics of martyrs.

The hardworking, compassionate nuns associated with those churches were highly accomplished ladies, and it was they who created the garments for the catacomb bare-bones (called in German katakombenheiligen)and put the valuable and cut stones for adornment. Who knows whose old bones were adorned in such away. The bones arrived from Rome in a box with the name of the slain saint.

Saint Pancratius. Photo: Paul Koudounaris
Saint Pancratius. Photo: Paul Koudounaris

They were unquestionably prestige symbols. The skeletons were given Latin names and were covered in gold and diamonds from the cranium to the metatarsal. The decorations varied, but they were frequently elaborate. The skeletons wore velvet and silk robes embroidered with gold thread, and the gems were real or costly imitations. Even silver plate armor was provided to a select few.

Saint Coronatus joined a convent in Heiligkreuztal, Germany, in 1676 Shaylyn Esposito
Saint Coronatus joined a convent in Heiligkreuztal, Germany, in 1676 Shaylyn Esposito

Given the time, finances, and commitment required to build the saints, it is sad to contemplate how few have survived to the present day. During the nineteenth century, many were stripped of their jewels and hidden or destroyed since they were deemed morbid and humiliating.  Of all of the catacomb saints that once filled Europe, only about ten percent remain, and few can be viewed by the public.

For more on the Katakombenheiligen, be sure to check out Paul Koudounaris’s Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs.

Banner
Related Post

“If this site (Sharda temple)is restored and conserved, it will attract thousands of Hindus and Buddhists from Kashmir and the rest of the world”

7 August 2021

7 August 2021

Sharda Peeth, a historic learning institution located 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Muzaffarabad, the capital and largest city of Pakistan-administered...

Egypt’s Lost city “Thonis-Heracleion”

6 September 2021

6 September 2021

Thonis-Heracleion (Egyptian and Greek names of the city) is a port city lost between myth and reality until 1999. Few...

Spain’s little-known Viking history is being uncovered

9 August 2021

9 August 2021

Spain has been subjected to more invasions and conquests than any other European country. And, while the Roman, Visigothic, and...

Iran’s legendary ruined city “Susa”

12 August 2021

12 August 2021

Ancient Susa is one of the oldest cities in the world. The Elamite, Persian, and Parthian empires formerly ruled over...

“Dholavira,” the settlement with the world’s oldest signboard

16 August 2021

16 August 2021

Dholavira, also known as Kotda (which means “big fort”), is one of the islands in Kutch’s vast desert. The city...

Georgia’s Queen of Kings “Tamar the Great”

17 August 2021

17 August 2021

Queen Tamar (1160-1235 CE) reigned during Georgia’s Golden Age, when the country’s frontiers stretched from the Black Sea to the...

Michelangelo, the artistic giant, was actually rather short

3 September 2021

3 September 2021

The legendary Michelangelo Buonarroti left huge works behind as an artist. But Italian researchers found that the shoes of this...

The Babylonian captivity or Babylonian exile

16 August 2021

16 August 2021

The Babylonian captivity or exile was an era in ancient Israel’s history. That exile began with a two-stage expulsion in...

700 Years After Dante’s Death, His Handwritten Notes Are Discovered

11 July 2021

11 July 2021

Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet, and scholar are best known for his masterwork La Commedia (also known as The Divine...

Jade Burial Suits of the Han Dynasty

12 September 2021

12 September 2021

Threaded hand-crafted from thousands of precious stone slabs with silver and gold during the Han Dynasty about 2000 years ago,...

500-year-old Inca mummy, as if in a deep sleep “La Doncella”

24 August 2021

24 August 2021

Three Inca mummies found near the high Volcán Llullaillaco peak in Argentina in 1999 stunned all scientists. The 3 Incas...

Ireland’s most beautiful round tower and Romanesque architecture

21 August 2021

21 August 2021

Romanesque means “from the Romans”, “descendant of the Romans”. This architectural style is called “Norman architectural style” in England and...

Foundations laid with human blood “Foundation sacrifices”

5 September 2021

5 September 2021

The custom of sacrificing a human being at the erection of a new house or fortress is very old. Foundation...

Bidnija olive trees have seen medieval, not the Roman period

13 July 2021

13 July 2021

The olive trees in the Bidnija grove on the island of Malta are believed to be 2000 years old. But...

Some interesting facts regarding its use the Galata Tower in Istanbul

10 July 2021

10 July 2021

The Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks, and its bright lights can be seen from all across...

Comments
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *