The magi have a short but memorable place in the Gospel story. After Jesus was born, magi from the east follow a star to Bethlehem, offer the new born king their three gifts, and then return home without revealing to Herod where they found Jesus (cf. Matthew 2).
That’s it. They drop out of the story. Scripture doesn’t even tell us exactly how many of them there were.
But where the Gospel story ends, the tradition of the Church takes over.
Various traditions say that there were in fact three magi and that their names were Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar.
One tradition says that they came from and represented the three continents of the Old World: Europe, Asia, and Africa, respectively.
Apparently, they were deeply affected by their encounter with Jesus, and either became Christians immediately, or quickly converted upon meeting the Apostles during their ministry. They were so strong in their faith that all three of them willingly accepted martyrdom. As such, they are considered saints.
But that’s not the end of their story!
When St. Helena visited the Holy Land in the 4th century, among the many relics she recovered were the bones of the three magi, which she took to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
They were later moved to Milan, and finally to Cologne, Germany by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I in 1164, where they have remained ever since.
Their visit to the child Jesus is remembered on Epiphany each year.
Here’s the Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne, which contains their bones:
The Orthodox monastery at Mount Athos claims to have the three gifts of the magi:
Ss. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar, please pray for us!
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