Hand of a jeweled skeleton clutching the pommel of sword in Gutenzell
|In late 2013 a relic hunter dubbed 'Indiana Bones' lifted the lid on a macabre collection of 400-year-old jewel-encrusted skeletons unearthed in churches across Europe.||Paul Koudounaris hunted down and photographed dozens of 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.