In 2008, a cathedral in Northern Italy was undergoing renovations, when workers discovered more than 300 bones belonging to two skeletons in one of the sealed crypts. The skulls were packed inside a pair of silver-and-gold busts deep in a cathedral vault. Legend has it that they belonged to two young Christian martrys, Saints Chrysanthus and Daria.
Chrysanthus was the son of a Roman senator, and Daria was a Roman Vestal Virgin, both born in the 3rd century. Chrysanthus was disillusioned by the excess of Roman culture and never took to the Roman gods, so he turned to Christianity after reading the Acts of the Apostles. Chrysanthus’s father tried to influence his son by arranging a marriage to Daria. But his plan backfired when she also converted to Christianity and the couple, took a vow of celibacy and devoted their lives to God. They started evangelizing and converted a number of Romans.
Roman authorities eventually arrested the pair, and attempt torture the young husband and wife. The couple was eventually sentenced to death and were buried alive in a sand pit near the catacombs in Rome. According to the legend a Christian shrine was erected at their burial site, but their remains were moved to a cathedral in Reggio Emilia, a city in the north of Italy, in the 10th century, and had not been disturbed since 1651. Though other cities in Germany and France claim to possess the relics of Chrysanthus and Daria.
Ezio Fulcheri, from the University of Genoa, led a team of scientists involved with testing the relics. He told the MailOnline, “The completeness of the skeletons is also rare for martyrs of this era, implying that these relics were protected and venerated in their entirety at a very early point in history.’
Results of scientific testing and osteological analysis of the bones corresponded with the descriptions of Chrysanthus and Daria. Testing suggested that both were from an elite family because their bones showed signs of lead poisoning, which was common for ancient aristocrats because lead was found in wine, food, plumbing, utensils, and cosmetics. Osteological analysis of the bones also revealed they had very little physical stress from physical labor, which would also be consistent with people of the upper class.
The first skeleton was thought to belong to a female in her mid-20’s based on its petite frame and wide pelvis, a finding that was confirmed by a DNA test. Since not all of the epiphyses of the bones of the second skeleton were fully fused, researchers believe these remains belong to someone between 17 and 18 years old at the time of death. DNA tests later showed that these bones belonged to a male.
Scientists removed a single rib from each body for a carbon dating, which revealed the remains dated to between 80AD and 340AD. This date range coincides nicely with when Chrysanthus and Daria lived.