Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs 1st Edition

74 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0500251959
ISBN-10: 0500251959
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Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs + The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses + Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“These macabre images elicit a range of contemporary references, from Goonies to bling-laden rappers to artist Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull.” (Wired.com)

“Perhaps this book is not the originator of the phrase 'skeletons in your closet,' but if it were, that closet would be looking quite stupendous.” (Dazed Digital)

“An art historian nicknamed ‘Indiana Bones’ has unearthed a haunting collection of jewel-encrusted skeletons which were hidden in churches in Europe up to 400 years ago.” (New York Post)

“Photographer and author Paul Koudounaris gained unprecedented access to these so-called ‘catacomb saints’ for his new book Heavenly Bodies. Many had never been photographed for publication before. Revered as spiritual objects and then reviled as a source of embarrassment for the Church, their uneven history is marked by one constant: a mysterious, if unsettling, beauty.” (CNN.com)

“A compelling read. . . . The gorgeous photos that accompany the text only reaffirm the opulence of such relics.” (Gothic Beauty)

“Smart and accessible, Heavenly Bodies opens the door to this largely overlooked aspect of the Counter Reformation era.” (Hi-Fructose)

“Prepared to be amazed by the splendor and beauty of ornamented skeletal remains.” (Palm Springs Life)

“Koudounaris takes his subject beyond historical rubbernecking and looks at how bodies can move the spirit―and why we can’t let go and can’t look away.” (The North Coast Journal)

“Brings to life a group of long-forgotten Catholic relics.” (Lapham's Quarterly)

“Investigates the historic attempts to prescribe posthumous identities to skeletons, specifically those believed to be martyrs.” (Vice.com)

“Oh, you didn’t know the skeletons of martyrs were unabashedly decked out in gems? Welcome to the club.” (BuzzFeed)

“Focuses on the life and history of a set of false relics in the Catholic Church.” (The Desert Sun)

“The images of the catacomb saints are dazzling, almost beyond belief.” (Publishers Weekly)

“This macabre mash-up of camp and Catholicism features nearly 100 drop-dead images of blinged-out skeletons.” (Passport Magazine)

“A strange and fascinating book exploring bejeweled Counter Reformation Catholic Skeletons.” (American Society of Jewelry Historians)

“Magnificently illustrated. . . . An illuminating read for jewelry historians and gemologists alike.” (Gems and Gemology)

“The photography by Koudounaris is outstanding. He was given access that most tourists touting a camera are not.” (Examiner.com)

“Koudounaris is one of the first people to photograph the strangely stunning skeletons that have been rediscovered over the years. And while he can't speak to their authenticity as saints, he does believe that they are extraordinary works of art that deserve to be seen.” (People.com)

“In telling the story of these extraordinary relics, Koudounaris makes a case for them as neglected masterpieces of religious art. . . . Koudounaris uncovers a lost world of religious devotion, in which sanctified remains could control the weather, save souls from purgatory, and serve as all-purpose patrons.” (Los Angeles Review of Books)

About the Author

Paul Koudounaris received his doctorate from the art history department at UCLA. His previous books include The Empire of Death and Heavenly Bodies. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 1 edition (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500251959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500251959
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.9 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,241 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

PhD, Art History UCLA; I live in Los Angeles, CA, USA. I photograph and write about some very fascinating dead people throughout the world. Personal website is www.empiredelamort.com. Facebook page for the books Empire of Death, Heavenly Bodies, and Memento Mori is www.facebook.com/empireofdeath. There are a couple talks coming up--please click on my author page and scroll down to see list of events.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By docmartin on October 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author makes this fascinating, but relatively unstudied field surprisingly accessible to the reader. After I finished reading it, my friend's 16 year old daughter picked it up and could not put it down for hours. Beyond the substantive content, the pictures are simply amazing, and it makes for an awesome conversation piece/coffee table book.
My girlfriend is always trying to get me interested in art books, often (with the exceptional ocassion) without much sucess, mostly because of the pretentious writing that tends to seep into these types of publications. Paul Koudounaris' writing is different: not only acessible, but truly fun and entertaining, yet still informative and fascinating. I suppose one has to, when writing about the fun and the beauty in death, and I'd much rather self-educate with a smile.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A. Ashbaugh on September 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is just stuffed with gobs of full color pictures of heavily, *insanely* over-decorated, bedazzled, Counter Reformation skeletonised saints. Lots of close ups, too. If you like skeletons, holy relics, sparkly things, and the baroque, then this is the book for you. It's definitely the book for me.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on November 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
There's a good chance that your average Catholic might have run into relics -- the stray skull, vertebrae or finger bones of some long-dead saint. But complete human skeletons? And dressed up in gold and silver thread, precious gems, bejeweled armor and sumptuous robes? And displayed in public for all to see?

Not so much.

In what might be a spectacle worthy of a horror movie, many of these relics, on display in churches throughout southern Germany, are documented by Paul Koudounaris in his extraordinary book, "Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs." With dozens of full-page, beautifully-composed photographs as well as accessible, well-researched prose, Koudounaris tells the story of the Katakombenheiligen or Catacomb Saints. These were the supposed skeletons of Christians martyrs spirited out of Rome's catacombs from the 1600s to the 1800s, and destined to replace precious relics destroyed during the Reformation. Whether the bones could be proven to be martyrs or even Christian mattered little; the fact that they were Roman was enough to merit a trip beyond the Alps. After their "translation," or travel from Rome, they were cleaned, assembled, dressed, bejeweled, posed and displayed in churches in the German speaking world. Since in many cases the bones came without provenance, they were often named by their new owners -- either after a popular patron of a local monastery, for some virtue (St. Fortunatus, St. Felicity) or their lack of a name (St. Incognito). These town patrons were regularly removed from their niches and paraded through town for veneration, a few even in modern times.

Koudounaris brings alive a time when gruesome displays of the dead were an aid to faith.
Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Martijn on October 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A great book that couldn't go wrong for me as it beautifully combines 2 of my interests: photography and history. The photos are beautiful and the text is very informative. The only 'gripe' with my book is that isn't bigger! I'd love a 'jumbo' version of this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bookworm70 on January 31, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The first book of Dr. Koudanaris gave us an in depth treatment
of the Ossuaries from the different parts of the World. It was
a good work.

However, Heavenly Bodies failed to deliver the same scholarly expertise.
Theses topics were already discussed in other books and I was expecting
more stories about the Catacomb Saints. Although the reproduction of the
pictures was well done, but almost limited.

I am still looking forward for the Bibliography consulted for this work.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By RB on October 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Vienna, and saw a museum display of saint's finger bones covered in sumptuous fabrics, tiny gold crowns, and gems, set in fascinating vignettes. Try as I might, I couldn't find a book for sale to tell me about these displays. They've never left my mind...then a friend sent me a link to this incredible book. Wow. To finally understand the history of this work, why it was done and by whom, is just wonderful! As an artist with silversmith's training, I can only imagine the hours, weeks, months, and years it took to adorn these skeletons. For the nuns who performed this work, it was the ultimate devotion to their faith. While I've never had that kind of faith, I can imagine and deeply respect the way people truly lived their God every day, in all the tasks of their days. God wasn't something they practiced on a Sunday; instead, they lived in the present, with their faith beside them. And I know that for millions of poor, suffering people, this was the only love, warmth, and safety in their lives. So while I am not a church person--hey I've never even been baptized!--I so respect the church in all of its failings, for giving that to those folks. This book provides a glimpse into the devotion of people who served their God every day of their lives. Some may find the subject bizarre...to dress and adorn skeletons. I think it's lovely and moving. The only criticism I can make of this book is that a larger size would have been awesome. However, that would have pushed the price out of many folks' range, and that would really be a shame. This book is worth the money!
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