"St. Benedictus," at Muri Abbey in Switzerland: A "Catacomb Saint" whose body was originally exhumed from the Roman catacombs in 1681; it was then consecrated, decorated, and taken to Switzerland to be displayed as the holy relic of St. Benedictus.
During the 16th-17th centuries, many remains such as these were taken from the Roman Catacombs, and were then transformed into "Catacomb Saints" that would ultimately be sold to various parishes throughout Europe. These "saints" were claimed to be the genuine remains of early Christian martyrs (who would've been killed in the 2nd-4th centuries CE) though their actual identities remained unknown.
After being exhumed from the catacombs, these anonymous skeletons would be cleaned, posed, gilded, bejeweled, draped in silk or lace, and/or fitted with armor; they were often decorated with other purportedly genuine holy artifacts, as well. In some cases, a glass vial/reliquary containing dehydrated blood would be displayed alongside the body, and it was claimed that this was in fact the blood of the martyr in question.
A Flask of Dehydrated Blood in the Bejeweled Hand of "Saint Munditia," at the Church of St. Peter in Munich: This skeleton (possibly dated to the 4th-6th centuries CE) was exhumed from the Roman Catacombs and placed on display in 1675.
Some "saints" were given swords or crowns, while others were posed on elaborate thrones and/or dressed in special garments. Such relics were often given as "proof" of the saint's identity.
"Catacomb Saints" were typically purchased by parishes, where the remains were displayed and venerated. It is believed that many of these remains were purchased through the donations of local parishioners, even in relatively poor communities (for various and probably obvious reasons). "Catacomb Saints" were very popular throughout Europe, and though many were later lost or destroyed, some have been preserved. Most of these remaining "saints" are still kept within the same parishes that originally purchased them, where they have been on display for centuries.
"St. Pancratius" on Display in Wil, Switzerland: The skeleton shown here was originally decorated in the style of a Roman soldier in 1672, and the more elaborate plate armor was then added at some point in the 1700s.
"St. Albertus," from the Church of St. George in Burgrain, Germany: The remains of "St. Albertus" have been housed at this church in Burgrain since 1723, but were initially dredged from the Roman Catacombs.
"Saint Valentinus," from Waldsassen Basilica in Germany: One of several different "Catacomb Saints" located in Waldsassen, this relic of "St. Valentinus" is clothed in an ornate deacon's cassock and gold-trimmed biretta in an effort to express the divine/priestly station of the saint himself.
"Saint Valentinus" again, this time photographed from a different angle
I find it really fascinating how "Catacomb Saints" always seem to have this incredibly unsettling and yet strangely beautiful aesthetic. There's just so much contrast and so many layers of irony in this phenomenon: the fact that this practice combines the sacred (i.e. spiritual transcendence) with the profane (i.e. material wealth) which could, in some ways, constitute a transgression against the very god that these relics are said to honor; the fact that this is all part of a religious tradition that places so much emphasis on the transcendent nature of the human soul (while largely dismissing the physical body as little more than a token of our temporary existence within the imminent world) and yet here we have these skeletons, utterly devoid of any soul and reduced to nothing more than imminent remains, being actively venerated as holy relics; the fact that these individuals likely lived and died in poverty, as anonymous bodies, and have only been granted wealth and fame through the anonymity of their deaths, once wealth and fame were essentially unusable to them, etc. But I think that the most fascinating irony here is just the fact that each body likely belonged to some random person whose bones were fished out of the catacombs in Rome specifically so that the remains could be consecrated/decorated and displayed as emblems of virtue and righteousness, and yet, despite the fact that their body has now been consecrated, exalted, venerated and immortalized as a sacred figure within the world's single largest faith, each person's actual identity has still been entirely forgotten; their now very famous, very widely venerated body is also somehow fated to remain utterly nameless and anonymous forever.
I think this is especially poignant from the perspective of a forensic/bio-archaeologist, because this is the inverse of what we normally strive to accomplish: we take human remains that have previously been cast aside into anonymity and attempt to restore their individuality and their true identities, essentially recognizing their inherent value as individuals/human beings...but for the "Catacomb Saints," the identities of the bodies have been scrubbed clean and replaced with broad iconography, in an effort to express their value as theological symbols; they lose their individuality in order to function as vessels for more abstract meaning.
"St. Getreu," from Ursberg, Germany: Draped in mesh, ornate wire, and gemstones.
"St. Konstantinius," on display in Rohrshach, Switzerland: Posed as if reclining, this skeleton also grasps an ornate golden palm frond in its right hand; palm fronds are often depicted within Christian iconography, where they are generally used as a symbol of martyrdom.
Another image of the palm frond depicted with the body of "St. Konstantinius."
There are just so many different aspects to investigate with the whole "Catacomb Saints" phenomenon and absolutely every one of those aspects is fascinating, imo. It's just one of those topics that has never really left the back of my mind over the years, and I frequently come back to it.
[The photos shown above come from a book called Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, by Paul Koudounaris. It's a really fantastic read. You can also go here to check out more photos on this topic.]
I have no problem with Catholics who: prefer the Latin Mass, love and promote the traditional beauty of the Latin Mass, disapprove of irreverent things that happen sometimes in Novus Ordo Masses, and question parts of Vatican II.
I simultaneously have no problem with Catholics who: prefer the Novus Ordo Mass, like the Mass in a language they understand, love the simple beauty of the Novus Ordo Mass, and disapprove of those who think they're automatically better because they attend TLM.
That being said, I do have a problem with Catholics who: are ok with irreverent things happening in a Novus Ordo Mass, or any Mass (i.e. dancing, improper handling of the Eucharist, etc), think Vatican II is infallible and perfect, and want to restrict TLM.
As well as Catholics who: think they are better simply for attending TLM, disregard Vatican II completely, and say the Novus Ordo is never valid or licit because it's not TLM.
When choosing a Mass to attend, think reverant, not necessarily traditional.
That's my two cents on the topic.
"Both the church and the state are finding ways to kill people with AIDS, and one of the ways is ostracism that pushes people between the cracks of respectability or acceptability and leaves them there to make of life what they will or what they cannot."
Daniel Joseph Berrigan, American Jesuit priest
It kind of throws me when Americans get fixated on Japanese media treating Christianity as a form of witchcraft because, like, American media does that all the time, too; it’s just that it’s usually Catholicism in particular that gets that treatment.
I’ve seen a lot of American media – often but not always horror media – that treats Catholic religious paraphernalia as magic items, and Catholic observances as magic spells, and that seems to be under the impression that all Catholic clergy are trained in the art of wizardry.
I mean, I understand that to a devout Protestant there’s probably a huge distinction there, but from the outside it looks a whole lot like people getting worked up about Foreign Media(tm) treating priests like Dungeons & Dragons warlocks while their own media cheerfully does the exact same thing.
One of my favorite “kids and religion” stories is still about my cousin and his mom. He was like seven or eight at the time, and had given up McDonald’s for Lent. He had a really bad day at school, and was crying, and my aunt was trying to cheer him up; she said God wouldn’t mind if he broke the Lenten vow once, and come on, they could do it together, just the two of them.
And he stops crying, looks at her, and goes “Oh my God, you’re the devil”