Did you ever imagine that someone could think of embellishing skeletons and preserving them? If not, then you will definitely be surprised to know about the embellished skeletons that Paul Koudounaris brought to light. The Los Angeles-based art historian, author and photographer, Paul Koudounaris’ fascination with death led him to devote his career to investigating and documenting phenomena such as church ossuaries, charnel houses and bone-adorned shrines.
How Did Paul Koudounaris Discover The Embellished Skeletons?
During his research trip to Germany, a man approached him and asked if he is interested to witness a dilapidated church, with standing skeletons, covered with jewels. This instantly excited Paul Koudounaris, and landed in this particular village near the Czech border to document a crypt full of skulls. In no hope of finding such jewelled skeletons anywhere in that place, he was astonished to find a skeleton, adorned with jewels and lurking behind the trees.
On a closer look, he found a skeleton, watching him with big, red glass eyes wedged into its gaping sockets. The skeleton was draped like a king and held a glass veil, which had its own blood. He found the same thing in another German church that made him realise there was more to this. On researching further, he found that the skeletons were ‘catacomb saints’ once revered and protected in the 16th and 17th century.
Restoring The Dead
On May 31, 1578, local vineyard workers discovered a road traversing to a catacomb. They found countless skeletons in the chamber, apparently of the Christians who were persecuted for practicing the still-outlawed religion. Learning about this, the Catholic Church believed it to be god sent, as many of the skeletons would also be of the Christian Martyrs. These skeletons were considered as Holy bodies and they soon became a prized possession for every Catholic church and wealthy families.
Every Catholic church, no matter how big or small, they wanted to have if not 10, then at least one skeleton. Skilled nuns, or sometimes the monks, would prepare the skeleton for public appearance, which took up to three years, depending on the size of the team at work. The reverence to these Holy skeletons was such that people baptised the name of first child born, after the Holy skeleton’s arrival.
The Rise Of Disbelief In The Holy Skeletons
As the newer generations came, the mindset changed and people started to consider these skeletons as an epitome of barbarity, appealing only to the vulgars. Austria’s Emperor Joseph II, in the late 18th century, was determined to dispel these superstitious things from his territory. Most of the Skeletons were stripped off, but some were still left.
There were still people, who believed in the Holy Skeletons. For every 10 skeletons, 9 were gone. Paul Koudounaris examined almost 250 abandoned skeletons and concluded that they were the finest art made with human bones. Although, once a thing of reverence, the skeletons are now nothing more than an incredible art form. Koudounaris, however wanted to bring back these treasures to the world apart from just documenting them in his book. Some Churches agreed but because of the cost, the project is held still.
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