Heavenly Bodies

Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs


Following the success of The Empire of Death, which has attracted a global cult following, Heavenly Bodies brings the ‘catacomb saints’ out of the darkness for the first time


ISBN: 9780500251959 Category:

Paul Koudounaris


In 1578 a labyrinth of underground burials was discovered in Rome that contained the remains of thousands of individuals assumed to be early Christian martyrs. The bones were disinterred and sent to many Catholic churches and religious houses in German-speaking Europe to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Protestant Reformation.

Reassembled by skilled artisans, encrusted with gold and jewels and richly dressed in fantastic costumes, the skeletons were displayed in elaborate public shrines as reminders of the spiritual treasures that awaited the faithful after death. For nearly three centuries these ‘Heavenly Bodies’ were venerated as miracle-workers and protectors of their communities until doubts about their authenticity surfaced in the modern era. They then became a source of embarrassment for the Church and most were destroyed or hidden away.

Critically acclaimed author and photographer Paul Koudounaris brings the catacomb saints out of the darkness with this astonishing volume including arresting images of more than seventy spectacular jeweled skeletons and the fascinating stories of dozens more. This is the first time that some of these incredible relics – both intriguing historical artifacts and masterpieces of artistic craftsmanship in their own right – have appeared in a publication, with Koudounaris gaining unprecedented access to photograph in some of the most secretive religious establishments in Europe.

Meticulously researched and beautifully written, this is a tour de force of original cultural history with deepest resonances for a modern audience fascinated by visual representations of death.

Additional information

Weight 848 g
Dimensions 17.7 x 24.4 cm
Publisher name Thames and Hudson Ltd
Publication date 1 September 2013
Number of pages 192
Format Hardback
Dimensions 17.7 x 24.4 cm
Weight 848 g


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Paul Koudounaris has a doctorate in Art History from the University of California and has written widely on European ossuaries and charnel houses for both academic and popular journals.