In the middle of the European Renaissance, these fantastic skeleton gods were being constructed in the bowels of Europe's Catholic churches. Los Angeles art historian and photographer Paul Koudounaris found these secret saints in catacombs and storage bins across the old Holy Roman Empire.

Made of real human bones and a shockingly vulgar amount of jewels and gold, these creations were constructed to replace older skeleton gods destroyed by Protestant uprisings. Late in the 16th Century, the Vatican began shipping these skeletons to its churches that survived the Reformation, so that believers would have "saints" to pray to once again—while named after popular Catholic saints, the origins of these skeletons are even more dubious than the better known relics of Europe.

Koudounaris specializes in macabre art, particularly the human remains used in religious worship around the world. He was reportedly given rare access to these ornate skeletons, which were mostly tucked away a century ago as open worship of bejeweled bones fell out of religious fashion.

Heavenly Bodies, Koudounaris' new book of photography about the gruesome bone-gods, will be released next month in time for Halloween. If you enjoy the decorated and costumed skeletons of Mexico's Día de Muertos, their European cousins will look very familiar, even if they lack the whimsy of the New World style.

[Photographs courtesy of Dr. Paul Koudounaris.]