Skeletons of saints, covered in gems.

- Waldsassen, Germany, detail of St. Gratian. The Basilika at Waldsassen holds the largest extent collection of presumed skeletons of martyrs from the Roman Catacombs still on display..

When a man in a German village approached Paul Koudounaris during a 2008 research trip and asked something along the lines of, “Are you interested in seeing a dilapidated old church in the forest with a skeleton standing there covered in jewels and holding a cup of blood in his left hand like he’s offering you a toast?” Koudounaris’ answer was, “Yes, of course.”

I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone to ask me that question! Preferably an old crone with chicken feet that poke from beneath her skirt. She’ll ask me to come with her in cackling tones, then she’ll lower her voice and lean forward. “My name is Baba Yaga,” she will whisper, her breath smelling of burnt sage and rotting meat. “I know,” I’ll say. “I’ve been waiting for you.” She will nod, folds of her red calico headscarf falling around her wrinkled face and glinting eyes. “Come with me, child. Into the forest.”Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 7.10.23 PM

But dang, some people have all the luck. Koudounaris is a photographer, author, and art historian. He has a really rad website called Empire de la Mort that you can check out here. For a more intellectual take on his work, go read the piece at


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