In 1578, archaeologists stumbled upon a vast network of underground tombs hidden beneath Rome that served as the resting place for the remains of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many of these supposed saints were removed from the tombs and sent to the Catholic churches of Europe in order to replace many of the holy relics that were destroyed in the Protestant Reformation. Upon arrival to their new resting place, the skeletons were reassembled and adorned by jewels, crowns, armor, lace, and gold to serve as a physical representation of the treasures believed to await them in the afterlife
Photographer Paul Koudounaris specializes in capturing photographs of mummies, skeletal reliquaries, and any other sort of ancient human remains. For this collection, Koudounaris was granted access to a few of the various religious institutions in order to photograph the chilling, yet beautiful shrines for the first time in history. The photographs that he captured have been collected into a book titled Heavenly Bodies.