|A relic hunter dubbed 'Indiana Bones' has lifted the lid on a macabre collection of 400-year-old jewel-encrusted skeletons unearthed in churches across Europe.|
Art historian Paul Koudounaris hunted down and photographed dozens of gruesome skeletons in some of the world's most secretive religious establishments. The skeletons are said to be the remains of early Christian martyrs.
|Thousands of skeletons were dug up from Roman catacombs in the 16th century and installed in towns around Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the orders of the Vatican.|
They were sent to Catholic churches and religious houses to replace the relics destroyed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
|After they were found in the Roman catacombs the Vatican authorities would sign certificates identifying them as martyrs then they put the bones in boxes and sent them northwards.|
The skeletons would then be dressed and decorated in jewels, gold and silver, mostly by nuns. They had to be handled by those who had taken a sacred vow to the church - these were believed to be martyrs and they couldn't have just anyone handling them.