From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

The jewel-encrusted skeletons of Roman martyrs

Gold, sapphires, rubies and pearls adorn the skeletons of Rome's lost martyrs.

In 1578, thousands of ornately decorated skeletons were discovered in catacombs under Rome.

Los Angeles photographer Paul Koudounaris documented these jewel encrusted remains for his new book, "Heavenly Bodies."

RELATED: Listen to an interview with Paul Koudounaris on Take Two

Glimmering gold and shining jewels lining the ribs of a skeleton might seem easy to photograph, but not when they're hidden behind centuries-old glass.

Koudounaris had to photograph through glass that was up to 400 years old, permanently sealing many of the bejeweled skeletons.

He carried a personal bottle of Windex with him, and spent hours trying to find the right angle through the glass.

When the catacomb saints were discovered, church officials started naming the skeletons after martyrs and saints.

The church began sending these saints out to churches in Northern Europe to reinforce Catholicism's presence among growing Protestant populations.

These majestically adorned skeletons were displayed in churches across Europe and became the focal point of local superstitions and popular devotion as patron saints of the mundane.

One became the saint of bad smells, deodorizing congregants who prayed in front of the skeleton.

Another became the patron saint of animal infertility.

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