400-year-old skeletons decorated in gems and jewellery were hunted and found across Europe by Paul Koudounaris, an art historian.
The skeletons were found in church crypts and are thought to be Christian martyrs.Â In the 16th century, they had once rested in Roman catacombs, but were later dug up and sent to various churches in Europe. The skeletons replaced the relics that were destroyed following the Protestant Reformation.
They were called the Catacomb Saints and symbolised the Catholic Churchâ€™s newfound strength. The skeletons were dressed in gems and jewellery, which took five years for some to complete, in order to represent the treasures of the afterlife. The skeletons also had social significance, as they helped to solidify the bond between the town and its people.
However, in the 19th century, the skeletons were stripped of honours since they were never canonised and then discarded. Koudounaris came across them in his research and decided to write about them in his new book called Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, where the skeletons appeared in print for the very first time in history.