SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It’s not every day you see shelves stacked with real human skulls.

But for those who admire the art of reliquary, it’s not out of sorts.

D Neath is a longtime art gallery owner and curator in Sacramento, and a recent widow who remembers her husband fondly.

“We sponsored a motorcycle run called art of the cycle. So, anyway, he was a big part of the business. He still is in a way,” Neath said.

And that’s because literally a piece of him has been immortalized in a reliquary that was featured at Neath’s gallery.

The art of reliquary is an ancient art started decades ago by Catholics to honor saints by using relics, often their remains, in sculptures. One of the world’s most renowned living reliquary artists who made D’s sculpture is Al Farrow, who lives near San Francisco with a workshop full of human remains and various types of weaponry. His work never fails to stir all kinds of reactions.

“When I incorporate human bones into a piece, some people have accused me of robbing graves,” he said.

That’s because, as you’d imagine, it’s hard to procure human remains. But Farrow said all the remains he’s used have been procured in a respectful and legal manner.

“I get the bones where I can get ’em, you know,” he said. “People mostly give ’em to me and I’m not going to reveal all my sources, but one of them was the Bone Room in Berkley when it existed [the Bone Room’s physical location].” 

Farrow’s work has been featured around the world in some of the most prestigious museums and galleries.

Hundreds of years ago, reliquaries were once the most expensive possession one could buy. People would also make pilgrimages to visit reliquaries open to the public in churches.

Unfortunately, however, many may have made the long journey in vain, as a great number of old reliquaries are fakes, according to Farrow. Many reliquaries were created and sold, claiming the bone of a saint is enshrined in it, only for the same saint’s remains to be sold to someone else.

A British geologist even claims the bones of Saint Rosalia in Sicily are actually not human bones at all, but goat bones. And almost all old reliquaries sold today are done so without any papers of authenticity. 

Interestingly, Farrow said throughout his 40-plus years in the art, he’s never met another reliquary artist, nor has anyone ever spoken to him about another living artist focusing solely on reliquaries.

For Neath, she said she’s forever grateful for Farrow and his work.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful thing. It’s just an amazing thing to have.”