The identification of the skeleton in Rott-am-Inn as the Emperor Constantine is dubious, but he is only one of several such skeletons, usually found in small parochial churches in Germany and Switzerland, fully articulated and covered over with gold, silver, and gems. They represent a curious and largely forgotten piece of Catholic history from a time when clairvoyant priests would use their powers to ascertain the remains of saints and martyrs.
The trend for jewelled skeletons began in the late 16th century. The Roman catacombs, which had been abandoned as burial sites and largely forgotten about, were rediscovered in 1578 by vineyard workers. This coincided with the initial phase of the Counter-Reformation; one of the areas of concern was affirming the efficacy and belief in relics against attacks by their detractors. Since the remains in the catacombs dated from the second to fifth centuries AD, it was possible, with a bit of wishful thinking, for Church leaders to romanticise the bones as belonging to almost any famed early Christian saint or martyr. In the newfound cache they saw a potential tool to bolster their supply of relics and promote their power.
The arrival of St. Albertus’ remains from the Roman Catacombs in 1723 was a source of great excitement for the parishioners of the church of St. George in Burgrain, Germany, offering both a tangible connection to the early Christian martyrs and a glimpse of the heavenly treasures that awaited the faithful.
They were sent to Catholic churches and religious houses to replace the relics destroyed in the wake of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s St. Luciana arrived at the convent in Heiligkreuztal, Germany, in the mid- 18th century and was prepared for display by the nuns in Ennetach
In reality, the bones could have belonged to anyone, since very few were provided with specific, identifying information – skeletons from the catacombs could, in fact, be pagan as easily as Christian. Papal secretaries were assigned to authenticate any potential relics, and the requirements were lax – frequently it was necessary only to find a palm on a coffin, or a bit of dried blood. Either was considered a sufficient emblem of a Christian martyr. More problematic was the issue of determining individual identities for the presumed holy personages. For that, a higher power was needed – psychic communion, involving clerical mediums who would descend into the catacombs and ascertain the identities of the skeletons. The practice continued until the mid-19th century, sometimes even involving the Pope himself, if he too had clairvoyant abilities.
To augment the supply of relics, he explained, trips were periodically made to the catacombs, but no one had a clue as to the identity of the skeletons found there, or if they were even Christian. Pope Gregory XVI would descend into the subterranean passages accompanied by a group of priests, invoke the Holy Ghost, and read a prayer, “by which Divine assistance, and directions from on high, is sought for the performance of this… solemn duty. The Pope then casts his eyes around the confused mass of mouldering skeletons, and, as the whim may take him, calls this the body of saint such-a-one, another, the body of ‘Virgin some-other-one’ – and so on, till he is warned by his attendants that enough are now baptized… to serve for the present occasion.
here was also the awkward issue of skeletons being divined as the relics of someone whose bones were already known to be in the possession of the Church. The Church of St Nicholas in Wil, Switzerland, for example, possesses the striking armoured and jewelled skeleton of the third-century martyr St Pancratius, taken from the catacombs in the 17th century. The relics of Pancratius, however, were already claimed to be housed in Rome, in a basilica that bore his name.Nonetheless, Pope Clement X and his staff confirmed the identity of the second skeleton as also being Pancratius
The most famous of all the artists who worked on such skeletons, Adalbart Eder at Waldsassen, was known for his ability to commune directly with the bones. The Basilica at Waldsassen possesses more jewelled skeletons than any church in Europe – a total of 10, lining the nave, as well as two large bust reliquaries on the altar – and these were all decorated during the 18th century by Eder, a Cistercian lay brother and skilled goldsmith. The last of these, the martyr Maximus, stumped Eder with its silence. According to local records, Eder, unable to communicate with it, was driven to the verge of despair in his inability to find an adequate posture for the skeleton. Called to supper, the frustrated artist informed the skeleton that he simply did not know what to do with it, and left his cell; when he returned, the skeleton had positioned itself.
originally posted by: Astyanax
That, madam, is thoroughly, comprehensively disgusting.
originally posted by: rusblued9217
These are amazing.
I wonder what the dollar value of the gems encrusted onto the skeletons is?
Must be astronomical
originally posted by: DodgyDawg
Oh, I thought that the most of them were found and deemed to be important and then decorated but some of them were actually people who had decided to be treated like this post death, cheers for clearing it up i was a bit confused.
It makes it even stranger to me as to why it would be done in the first place - even though the remains could be thought to be important or thought to be saints at the end of the day they are unidentified remains. I know that they were trying to convey the message of being rewarded for being true to the faith but it seems to be a strange and costly way to do so.
Hope you have more interesting stuff like this to share in the future Kantzveldt!
originally posted by: kaylaluv
a reply to: Astyanax
I'm glad you explained your avatar pic, because it raises a very good point related to this thread. While I might find the idea of eating chicken's feet nasty and repulsive (not to mention cruel for the chickens), another culture finds them a wonderful delicacy. Maybe we all should respect other cultures, and understand that one person's repulsion is another person's treasure.