reatness is defined by many people as the amount of zeros one accrues in life, set against an arbitrary standard of collectively agreed upon value. Yet, for most of us, no amount of dollar signs is ever going to earn us the immortality which the lack thereof makes death so terrifying a prospect to begin with. For those of us without the money to have our names laser etched into the moon from Earth, the best we’ll be able to hope for is that some decades after our death our descendants will be able to recognize our image in the digital family photo album, before photographs and selfies disappear from history in favor of rapid DNA recognition and 4D printed images of individual growth. I mean, what are the odds that anyone is going to take the time and money to wrap your body up in gold, silver and an ocean’s worth of pearls to display you for all time above the family fire mantel? Things like that just don’t happen. Not these days, anyway.
Before the sixteenth century, blinging out the dead was all the rage. If you were a Catholic saint, anyway, you could expect the sort of glitzy funeral to rival Egyptian kings. For the price of dying horribly for the church and their faith, these Heavenly Bodies could take the wealth of the world with them, all the way to the grave. Or the tomb. Or the glass encased alter. Whichever way you chose to terrify the message of God into small children attending Mass for the next couple hundred years. In the catacombs of France and Germany, particularly macabre gemologists could fill The Jeweler’s Directory of Gemstones ten times over with all the glittering discoveries painstakingly wrapped around dead Catholic saints and martyrs.
Of course, much of what is left of this beautiful tradition is fake. Many of the originals gems were stolen or repossessed when the practice of bejeweling the dead was labeled blasphemous and obscene, and the bodies that were once chilling in an eternity of cold, hard capital were subsequently destroyed. Still, it may be worth something to drop a couple hundred dollars on costume jewelry on your death bed, just for the opportunity to confuse the hell out of some future archeologists. That is, if we don’t some day consider the art of dying itself to be too obscene to take part in.