Amazing Life

By Janet Tappin Coelho

Saint Valentine has been brought back to life – thanks to 3D technology.

It is the first time the portrait of the patron saint of lovers, who was beheaded for defending romance some 1,700 years ago, has been revealed.

Scientists digitally mapped the holy man’s face using an ancient skull and 3D interactive technology.

Computer graphic designers Cicero Moraes unveiled the romantic’s reconstruction in time for Valentine’s day.

Moraes, who is based in Sinop, west central Brazil, said: “This has been an exciting, complicated and rare project to do. It’s not often that you get access to a precious and suitably relevant relic like this. We were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

“We worked on this project for three months and unveiling St Valentine’s face now, is a timely reminder of why this dedicated day of affection first started.

“Our work also gives the world a visual reference of who we should be thanking for the celebration.”

The saint’s relic stored in the Basilica of Santa Maria of Cosmedin, in Rome, was photographed by José Luís Lira, a researcher and religious writer, and analysed by forensic anthropologist, Dr Marcos Paulo Salles Machado, from the Legal Medical Institute in Rio de Janeiro.

He concluded the head ‘belonged to a European male aged around 55 years or more’.


Despite limited access to the skull which is kept in a tiny glass reliquary in the church and coronated with a crown of flowers with a stencilled inscription identifying it as Valentine’s remnants across the forehead; the researchers claim to have produced the first authentic likeness of the third century Roman bishop.

The results of the 3D reconstruction show how a series of photographs led to the digital rebuilding of the characteristics of the centuries-old face.

From the anatomical laying of soft tissue and muscle, to pigmentating skin tone and sculpting the features, the final result depicts a white haired, bearded benevolent-looking man.

He is dressed in a tunic, the official liturgical robes of a priest of the time. The red represents his martyrdom,

Although St Valentine’s life is largely shrouded in mystery, tradition holds that the ancient clergyman, who was killed in 273AD, sacrificed his life for love by defying a ban on marriage imposed by Emperor Claudius II.

Historians claim the Roman ruler was determined to build a formidable army to defend his empire.

He clamped down on lovers getting hitched, believing that young men, with no wife or dependents, would be more likely to go to war.

But the early Christian saint challenged the edict and secretly performed weddings for couples who fell in love.

PIC BY JANET TAPPIN COELHO / CATERS NEWS – The skull held in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome

The risks were great. Valentine lived at a time when Christians were persecuted and marriage ceremonies performed by the church were still a new ritual.

St Valentine’s match-making activities, particularly for soldiers, were eventually uncovered and Claudius II imprisoned and tortured him.

Legend also has it that while in jail many young people supported the priest by throwing flowers and passing notes through the prison bars expressing their belief in marriage and love.

And apparently shortly before his death, the ‘godfather’ of love fell head over heels for his jailer’s blind daughter, Artemias, who miraculously regained her eyesight.

On February 14, the day of his execution, St Valentine sent his sweetheart a goodbye love letter signed ‘from your Valentine’.

This, along with his selfless defence of love is said to be the inspiration for the world’s most romantic day of the year.

And it’s said these early gestures are responsible for the exchange of over a billion Valentine Day’s cards every year, millions of roses sent, vast quantities of chocolates consumed, and huge numbers of gifts wrapped.

All of which are accompanied by countless declarations of love.

Getting access to St Valentine’s skull came through an unexpected turn of events for the researchers.

Lira, who is also president of the Brazilian Academy of Hagiology (a study of the saints) has worked with Moraes on the reconstruction of the faces of Mary Magdalene and Saint Pauline of Brazil, among others.

He was in Rome last October on a separate project when he stumbled across the opportunity.

“I was in St. Peter’s Square when one of the many sellers there gave me a picture of St Valentine,” recalled Lira, who is normally based in Ceará, north east Brazil.


“I took it as a sign to see if I could get unthinkable, close up access to the skull in the Basilica. The chance to do the facial reconstruction of one of the Roman Catholic church’s most important and venerated relics has been a life-long dream,” he said.

As it happens, dean of the church, Father Mtanious Hadad, was keen to authorise the procedure. In an unprecedented move the church closed its doors to the public and for 40 minutes, Lira had exclusive access but couldn’t remove the skull from its resting place.

Photos of the relic, which was found during the excavation of a catacomb in Rome in the early 1800s, show the limited view of the object.

Lira sent 250 snaps to Moraes who whittled them down to 43. The graphic designer used photogrammetry and spatial scaling software to map and build a 3D skull.

Machado forensically analysed the 3D virtual head and confirmed the ancestry, sex and age without knowing who it was.

From his observations, he said it was that of a mature man. He analysed aspects such as the projected glabella (area between the eyebrows and above the nose), the sloping forehead, prominent superciliary arches (eyebrow ridge), blunt orbital ridges (located around the eye sockets), and the massive mastoid process (the temporal bone behind the ear).

PIC BY JANET TAPPIN COELHO / CATERS NEWS – The key stages in the 3D Reconstruction.

Age was determined by dental development.

However, Machado admitted: “A complete analysis was difficult because only a small front section of the skull could be captured by photogrammetry. So, we needed to fill in the gaps.”

But given that they were unable to handle the skull, this is the best anyone is likely to do for now said the researchers.

Moraes used another skull chosen for its compatibility, from a 3D digital library, to complete St Valentine’s cranium.

He then set about digitally adjusting and adding the anatomical details, placing soft tissue, muscle and cartilage using measurements gathered from hundreds of middle-aged men of the same ancestry, to sculpt the face.

He said: “The video illustrates a process called Retopo which uses 3D mesh sculpting on the base of the face and data processing to build up all the other features.

“St Valentine’s final look is based on skeletal, scientific and historical research and draws on years of my experience,” explained Moraes, adding his involvement in the project is ironic.

Brazil doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in February. The country’s carnival festivities dominate the calendar around this time of year and the equivalent day known as Dia dos Namorados is June 12.

“This year, I’m going to celebrate it with the rest of the world to mark the historic discovery,” said Moraes while acknowledging at least two other ancient holy men are said to lay claim to being St Valentine.

But Moraes dismissed the notion confidently: “We firmly believe we’ve uncovered the face of the real patron saint of love and unveiled much of what he looked like when he was alive.”