What kings were good kings
The three wise men are part of every Christmas story. But actually the Gospel of Matthew only speaks of "magicians from the east". Why they eventually became kings is a tortuous story.
What does the Bible say about the three kings?
Depending on the translation, the Gospel of Matthew tells of wise men, magicians or astrologers from the East who, following a constellation of stars, came to Bethlehem via Jerusalem to look for the newborn king of the Jews. They found him in a stable and gave the baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. The doctor of the church Origen (approx. 185 to 255 AD) spoke for the first time of the triad of magicians, which he derived from the three gifts. The doctor of the church Tertullian (approx. 160 to 225) cited scriptures from the Old Testament in order to be able to call the magicians kings for the first time.
How did popular belief and art deal with the subject?
Popular belief made magicians kings from different parts of the world. Their names have been given as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar since the sixth century. In art, Caspar is mostly shown as an African giving myrrh, Melchior as a European who presents gold treasures and Balthasar as the Asian king who brings incense to the manger.
How did the supposed bones of the Three Wise Men come to Cologne?
In 1164, the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald von Dassel, who was Chancellor of Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, kidnapped the relics of the three men from the conquered Milan to the Rhine. This made Cologne and its cathedral one of the most important pilgrimage centers of the Middle Ages. The shrine, created by Nikolaus von Verdun at the beginning of the 13th century and kept in the cathedral, is one of the most important goldsmith works of the Middle Ages.
And how did the bones get to Milan before?
Legends and reports that tell of the Three Wise Men only appear in connection with the veneration in Cologne. According to this, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, is said to have discovered not only the "true cross" of Jesus, his "holy coat" and the veil of Mary, the mother of God, but also the bones of the three kings and brought them to Constantinople. There are also only reports from the 12th and later centuries about how the bones got to Milan.
Why are there doubts about the authenticity of the relics?
Historians express considerable doubts as to whether the relics venerated in Cologne are real at all. You ask whether the whole story was just a clever staging of Barbarossa and Rainald von Dassel. The Munich historian Ralf Lützelschwab is puzzled by the fact that, until the bones were abducted from Milan, no historical source in the self-confident Italian city mentioned relics of the Three Kings. Contemporary witnesses are also silent on the veneration of men who were never officially canonized by the Church.
What significance do the wise men from the Orient have for the Church today?
The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Three Kings on January 6th. It is also known as the solemn festival of the Epiphany because it made the birth of Jesus and his royal dignity revealed to the world. The Magi are also venerated as the patron saints of travelers, pilgrims, merchants, innkeepers and furriers. The Epiphany is still a public holiday in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt today.
How is it that the Epiphany became the occasion for an important fundraising campaign by the Catholic Church?
In many regions it has been customary since the Middle Ages for children and young people to go from house to house around Epiphany, convey blessings and collect gifts. Since 1958 the children's missionary organization "Die Sternsinger" and later the Bund der Deutschen Katholischen Jugend (BDKJ) have been promoting the caroling campaign, in which children dressed as kings collect donations for their peers in need in developing countries.
Mostly they write or stick the blessing "C + M + B" associated with the respective year on house doors. The abbreviation stands for "Christ mansionem benedicat" (Christ bless this house), but also reminds of the names of the three kings handed down from tradition. This campaign is also sponsored by all Federal Chancellors since Helmut Kohl 1984, who invite carol singers to the Chancellery at the beginning of each year.
At the beginning of 2019, the carol singers collected a record result of around 50.2 million euros; the 50 million mark was exceeded for the first time. Since 1959, it has raised 1.14 billion euros. The carol singing has been part of the German intangible cultural heritage of Unesco since 2015.
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