Paul Koudounaris, a history teacher from California, spent more than three years visiting the oldest ossuaries, catacombs and churches in Europe, and taking pictures of the macabre treasures housed by these locations. Among them, there are several skeletons adorned with gold and silver jewelry, precious stones, which they believed to have belonged to saints.
Decorated with hundreds of precious stones and kilograms of gold and silver, the relics photographed by Koudounaris for his book “Empire of Death”, are actually skeletons removed from the Roman catacombs in the 16th century and sent to churches in Germany, Austria or Switzerland, at the Vatican order, to replace the relics destroyed during the Protestant Reformation in 1500.
Although no one can say precisely whether these skeletons belong to true martyrs of Christianity, the Vatican signed for them a number of authenticity certificates. According to the documents, the Catholic Church was using the members of the clergy, who claimed to have special abilities and who entered the catacombs, where, with the power of the mind, were identifying those skeletons belonging to saints.
Then, the bones were put in boxes and were sent from Rome to monasteries in central Europe, where the nuns decorated them with gold, silver and precious stones. Once this work was complete, the relics were exposed in churches and cathedrals to make people remember to beauty of the afterlife.
In order to gather documentary material for his work “Empire of Death”, Paul Koudounaris traveled for three years through Europe and visited the ossuaries and catacombs from countries like Austria, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy or Portugal.