Scientists at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom used a facial reconstruction system and three-dimensional interactive technological feats to create the portrait of one of the most famous but one of the least understood figures in history. Researchers at the Face Lab at the university in Wales have created the first known realistic portrait of St. Nicholas of Myra -- a Catholic bishop of the 4th Century who became the inspiration for the figure now known as Santa Claus.

The real Nicholas of Myra was a bishop of a town in what is now southern Turkey, living from 243 to 343 A.D. The entire Anatolian peninsula was Christian at the time. Nicholas participated in the Council of Nicea, after the Emperor Constantine had ceased the persecution of Christians under the reign of Diocletian. Known as Nicholas the “Wonderworker,” his fame has grown over the centuries as have stories of his secret gift-giving. He is the patron saint of Christians of the East and of sailors.

According to Prof. Caroline Wilkinson, she and her colleagues used “all the skeletal and historical material” available. According to a report by the BBC. a spokesperson for the university said that researchers used “the most up-to-date anatomical standards, Turkish tissue depth data and CGI techniques.”

Wilkinson said one of the most distinctive features of the face of St. Nick was his broken nose, which had “healed asymmetrically, giving him a characteristic nose and rugged facial appearance.”

One of the stories about the saint holds that during the debates the characterized the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. This first ecumenical council of the Church settled Christological issues relating to the relationship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to God the Father. Arguments apparently became heated at the Council. Tradition holds that Nicholas became so furious with Arius -- a heretic who argued that God the Son was inferior in status to God the Father -- that he punched him. Based on the evidence shown in the reconstruction of Nicholas’ face, it may be concluded that Arius punched him back.

The feast day of St. Nicholas is celebrated every year on December 6, especially among Christians of the East. However, he is revered in Western Europe, too. In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas arrives on a boat and then rides through cities on a horse and accompanied by a young helper known as Peter. He distributes candy and gifts to eager children who wait for him at their doorstep. Catholics of the Byzantine rite and Orthodox Christians celebrate his feast day with a special litrugy followed by gift-giving and feasting.

Following Nicholas' death in 343, he was buried in a church in Myra. Soon, as his renown spread, the church became a site of pilgrimage. In 1047, Italian sailors stole his mortal remains and took them to the Italian city of Bari at the southern most tip of the Italian peninsula on the Adriatic Sea. Ever since then, his burial place has been a place of pilgrimage and healing.

The laboratory in Wales has also reconstructed the face of Robert the Bruce, the Scottish hero warrior who ruled as King of Scotland from 1306 to 1329.

 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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