Tales of the Magi

The Magi (also known as the ‘three wise men’) are noted for bringing gifts to the infant Jesus. In this article, you will learn their names, as well as some of the tales and legends that they appear in throughout history.

The Names of the Magi

The Magi started out as ‘wise men’ and were later referred to as ‘kings’ over time by early Christian writers. By the time the 8th century rolled around, the three Kings were given names and became associated with their own kingdoms. The first was Melichior (or Melchior , ‘king of light’) the King of Persia; Gathaspa (Gaspar or Caspar , ‘the white one’) the King of India, and Bithisarea (or Balthazar or Baltasar , ‘lord of the treasures’) the King of Arabia.

Stolen Bodies

In medieval traditional tales, the three Magi gathered to celebrate Christmas in Sew , a town located in Turkey. This event took place more than half a century after they had followed the Star of Bethlehem to the scene of the birth of Christ. In the following month (early January), they all died at the age of more than 100 years old. A legend states that their bodies were taken from Sewa and transported to Milan, where they were stolen by the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century, and then brought to Cologne. It was here that they were supposedly remanded the Kings of Cologne and that their remains can be found in the cathedral.

Marco Polo and the Magi

Did you ever think Marco Polo would have a connection to the Magi? The infamous explorer who lived from 1254 to 1324 came close to uncovering the secrets of the Magi. He was in Saveh (southwest of what is now known as Tehran), and he reported to have seen the sepulchers of the Magi , stored in individual buildings with elaborate architecture. He claimed that the bodies he viewed had only undergone a small amount of decomposition. The region still tells of the legend that the three came from Saveh, Hawah, and Kashan. The men traveled together (going west) with plans to meet up with a ‘mysterious’ child. Polo heard all sorts of tales, but one spoke of a theme centered on “Christ came for all men.” As each King entered the house on separate occasions, they each saw that the infant Jesus bore a resemblance to their own appearance.

Medieval legends states that the three Magi died in early January because it was on the sixth of the month that the Western Church celebrated their visit to Christ. The Feast of Epiphany is traced back to pre-Christian rites , it is one of the oldest liturgical festivals associated with the Church. To this day, some people in Latin America and some Mediterranean countries will celebrate January 6th as “Little Christmas.”