Heavenly Bodies

Heavenly Bodies

Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs

  1. Paul Koudounaris
  • ISBN 9780500251959
  • 24.00 x 17.00 cm
  • Hardback
  • 192pp
  • 105 Illustrations, 90 in colour
  • First published 2013
‘Suitable for goths, art historians and everyone in between … Incredible relics’ – Book Depository
‘It’s utterly spectacular, hugely interesting and almost unbelievable’– All About History
‘Bling from the edges of eternity’ – Annie Lennox
‘The grinning, bejewelled catacomb saints who stare our from the pages of Koudounaris challenge us to engage in deeper exercises, spiritual and intellectual; to recreate lost forms of devotional life; to understand how they inspired and deformed the study of the Christian past; and to imagine what it felt like to believe that the gauze-wrapped skeleton in your church was a time lord, whose sight and touch could help to save your soul’ – The London Review of Books

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

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.

Heavenly Bodies

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.

The book includes arresting images of more than seventy spectacular jeweled skeletons and the fascinating stories of dozens more, accompanied by rare archive material. 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.

Paul Koudounaris lives in Los Angeles, where he took his doctorate in the art history department of UCLA. His first book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, was published by Thames & Hudson in 2011.