The trend for jewelled skeletons began in the late 16th century. The Roman catacombs, which had been abandoned as burial sites and largely forgotten about, were rediscovered in 1578 by vineyard workers. This coincided with the initial phase of the Counter-Reformation; the Council of Trent, called to formulate the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation, had just concluded, and one of the areas of concern was affirming the efficacy and belief in relics against attacks by their detract ors. Since the remains in the catacombs dated from the second to fifth centuries AD, it was possible, with a bit of wishful thinking, for Church leaders to romant icise the bones as belonging to almost any famed early Christian saint or martyr. In the newfound cache they saw a potential tool to bolster their supply of relics and promote their power.
--From "Bones with Bling: The amazing jewelled skeletons of Europe," by Paul Koudounari for The Fortean Times, June 2011Click here to read this entire article--a nice walk through the art and history of extraordinary European jewel and bone relics--on The Fortean Times website. All images sourced from the article and taken by author Paul Koudounari.
Thanks so much to Suzanne Gerber over at Wurzeltod for alerting me to this wonderful piece!
Images top to bottom:
- Relics of St Pancratius, Church of St Nicholas, Wil
- St Clemens, Church of Sts Peter and Paul, Rott-am-Inn, Germany
- Holy Martyr Theodosius, Waldsassen
- The remains of St Maximus, Basilica of Waldsassen