STAR OF WONDER: AN EPIPHANY STORY - Extending the Christmas Season


star of wonder

The Three Kings on their journey

In Matthew's original account of the Magi, no specific number of wise men is given. Although Syrian tradition says there were twelve wise men, most note only three—based on the three gifts they bring of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—and most traditions name them as kings.

Tertullian writes of Epiphany as the "festival of kings." In the "Armenian Childhood Book," an apocryphal writing from the end of the sixth century, the Magi are called three Persian kings, and an angel—not a star—shows the way.

The Venerable Bede, who died in 735, called the Magi "kings" and gave them names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. He also established their backgrounds as being from the three known continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The Three Kings in later life

According to legend, St. Thomas the Apostle late in his ministry found the three Magi and baptized them as Christians. He ordained them to the priesthood and then as bishops. At the end of their lives, the star which led them to Bethlehem appeared again and reunited them. Their remains were brought to Constantinople in the fifth century, then to Milan, and finally to Cologne in 1164. Their shrine in Cologne is still popular among pilgrims. Since the Magi are known for their journeys, they are often named as patron saints of travelers.

For further information, see Epiphany Background, Art, and Traditions of the Season.

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