The defense of the cult of saints and relics was an essential element of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Europe. Facing attacks from Protestant denominations of all kinds, the Roman church redoubled its efforts to promote the veneration of its holy figures and to house their earthly remains in dramatic style. Bedazzled Saints chronicles the transfer, distribution, and display of nearly four hundred "holy bodies" of ancient Christian martyrs, some of the church’s most prestigious relics, sent from the Roman catacombs to the Electorate of Bavaria between 1590 and 1803. Local communities, both religious and secular, broke with medieval tradition and spent immense amounts of time and money to fuse incomplete skeletons into lavishly decorated whole-body saints.

By examining these ornamented skeletons—painstakingly enhanced with jewels and fine clothing and still on display atop church altars to this day—Noria Litaker elucidates the interplay between local religious practice and universal church doctrine, shedding new light on the negotiated nature of sanctity in early modern Catholicism. In so doing, she challenges the dominant narrative of the Bavarian Catholic Reformation as a top-down process and provides new insights into the role relics and their innovative presentation played in the development of Catholic identity in early modern German lands.

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