The Three Magi: Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior
When I was in college, I journeyed to Cologne, Germany and visited the city’s glorious cathedral. I was a Protestant at the time, but I remember being amazed that people had been building this cathedral for so many centuries. It is one of the greatest Gothic churches of all time.
A tour guide informed me that the bodies of the three Wise Men were enshrined inside. Since I was still a Protestant, I wasn’t much impressed by the remains of dead people, but this was something that perked my interest – the earthly remains of “we three kings of orient are.” It was perhaps my first investigation into one of those things that Protestants find icky: relics.
According to tradition, the bodies of Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior (the traditional names of the Wise Men) were discovered by Saint Helena during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The fourteenth century account by John of Hildesheim entitled History of the Three Kings explains how Queen Saint Helen brought the mummies of the Magi to Constantinople.
After she had found the bodies of Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar, Queen Helen put them into one chest and ornamented it with great riches, and she brought them into Constantinople.
Later, the three mummies were transferred from Constantinople to Milan. The city of Milan was once known for its festive observance of the feast of Epiphany, and the presence of the three Wise Men’s relics in that city may be the context and origin for this ancient custom. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick moved the mummified Magi one last time to Cologne in AD 1164 where they rest till this day. If you get to Germany, be sure to check it out.
Wise Men still seek Jesus.
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