Saturday 21 February 2015

Face of Mary Magdalene is reconstructed with 3D digital technology

3D Designer from Brazil reconstructed the face of Jesus' preferred follower from her skull

Wrote by Jamerson Miléski, reporter (Brazil)
Translated by Dr. Paulo Miamoto. PhD

One of the most significant characters in the History, transcribed by the biblical texts and surrounded by folklore, will have her face revealed to the world by the hands of a Brazilian. The 3D designer from Sinop-MT (Brazil), Cicero Moraes is responsible for the work that recreated the face of Mary Magdalene from her skull.

Cicero is vice coordinator of Ebrafol (Brazilian Team of Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry) and member of archaeological research group Arc-Team from Italy. His work has gained worldwide prominence after forensic approximation made from the skull of St. Anthony, at the request of the University of Padova, Italy. It was the repercussion of the saint's image that granted the designer this new mission.

The face will presented in France, during the conference Adoratio 2015 (

Upon seeing the story on national television, the lawyer, researcher and writer from Ceará (Brazil), José Luis Lira, contacted Cicero. Former seminarian, member of Abrhagi (Brazilian Association of Hagiology), and a scholar of Catholic relics, Lira informed the designer of the existence of the preserved skull of Mary Magdalene. "That Mary Magdalene? I asked him, "says Cicero.

The answer was affirmative and interest in the reconstruction was immediate. From the contact, a connection between Sinop, Ceará and Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, a city in southern France began. The skull of Mary Magdalene is kept as a Catholic relic, in the shrine of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine's basilica. "I did not know neither this record or even the preserved skull actually existed", told Cicero.

Lira and Cicero contacted priest Florian Racine, which after initial reluctance got in touch with Monsignor Dominique Rey, Bishop of Freus and guardian of the relic. "We exchanged a few emails and reveal our intention, both scientific and historical, without disrespecting in any manner the Catholic belief and faith. They understood and sent us photos of the skull that made possible the reconstruction," said Cicero.

The face of Mary Magdalene will be presented to the world on 19 July this year, on the first day of the festivities organized by the basilica in honor of St. Mary Magdalene, the "Adoratio 2015" ( As with St. Anthony, the face will be revealed in an official event organized by the Catholic Church.

Is it actually Jesus' Mary Magdalene?

All the evidence, historical records and traditions point out that yes, this is the skull of Mary Magdalene mentioned in the Scriptures. The relic was recognized and visited, throughout history, by eight kings, four popes and evangelists who would later be recognized as saints.

History, which mixes narratives transcribed in the Bible with the tradition of southern France, points that after Pentecost (which according to Catholic belief is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of Jesus Christ), Mary Magdalene, as well as other subjects of Christ, left Palestine, fleeing persecution and helping spread the Catholic word. Along with Lazarus and Martha (her siblings), St. Maximin and St. Sidonius (the blind man healed by Christ), Mary Magdalene came to the South of France in a small vessel. Lazarus was the first bishop of Marseille, a major city in France. Maximino, former butler of Bethany house (family of Lazarus), was the first bishop of Provence and later lent his name to the city. The French tradition says that Mary Magdalene dedicated herself to spreading the teachings of Christ, following St. John the Evangelist for a while. For 30 years she lived in caves in the Alps and in the year 49 a.C. she received extreme unction, with her body kept in the Church Saint-Maximin-to-Sainte-Baume.

And there the remains of the preferred follower of Jesus rested for over 1200 years until being discovered by the Prince of Salerno and future King of Naples, Charles II, on September 9th, 1279. Skull gained status of Catholic relic in 1600, when Pope Clement VIII ordered the construction of an appropriate sarcophagus to house the bones of Mary Magdalene.

During the French Revolution (1789) the relics have endured hard times, marked by the presence of rebels and invaders, barely avoiding getting lost. Only in 1814 the temple would be restored and the relic with the head of Mary Magdalene was recovered.

Today the skull of Mary Magdalene is kept in a gold reliquary, shaped like a bust of a woman. The gold mask with its "face" opens, revealing the skull behind a glass case. Just like priest Racine lifted that mask, putting it aside to record the digital images of the ancient bones, Cicero will also remove a veil and reveal the face that once contemplated Christ.

Is it the prostitute?

According to Cicero, this was one of the greatest learning in this case. "I realized that prior to reproducing a story or passing something forward, we must try to know what it really is about" said the designer.

Like most people, Cicero knew Mary Magdalene as a prostitute that Christ saved from being stoned to death. "There is no account in the Bible that it was Magdalene" he said.

The confusion with the Magdalenes began in 591, with a sermon of Pope John Gregory the Great, who identified the three "women" listed in the passages of Jesus as the same person: Mary Magdalene. Besides that one in which Christ avoids her stoning, the other two passages deal with a Magdalene that had seven demons expelled from her body by Jesus, giving away all material property and to follow the Messiah afterwards; and another more emblematic passage, where Magdalene washes the feet of Jesus and dries it with her hair.

Nearly a thousand years later a papal encyclical clarified the confusion signed by Pope Gregory, still Magdalene was labeled as the prostitute of the Bible in many cultures.

In France she is Holy, recognized in the scriptures as the first person to see Christ after his resurrection. Even though her gospel was excluded from the Bible, Magdalene is considered an important figure in the history of Christianity.

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