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magi
Question from Joe on 7/31/2005:

Is it true that the three magi are buried in Cologne, Germany?

Also, were they from Persia and could they have been Zoroastrians who studied a lot of astrology?

Thank you

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 8/7/2005:

The shrine of the Three Kings in the Cologne cathedral is said to contain the bones of the Three Kings, also known as the Three Wise Men or Magi. It is a large gilded sarcophagus dating from the 13th century; it has the distinction of being one of, if not the largest reliquary in the western world.

According to most reliable sources, the remains of the Magi where taken from Milan (where they had been transferred in the 5th century) by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and given to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald von Dassel in 1164. To provide a suitable setting for the relics, the city fathers and Church leaders began construction on the Cologne cathedral in 1248. Ultimately, the cathedral took 632 years to complete. The significance of the relics to city, the Coat of Arms of Cologne contains three crowns to symbolize the Three Kings. As for the relics themselves, a scientific examination of the shrine in 1864 indicated the remains may have actually dated to the 1st century A.D.

Unfortunately, nothing is known with certainty about the Wise Men from the East after their visit to the Holy Family. This is not surprising as little is known about them in general. It is surmised that they were probably Medes from the clan of Magus, from ancient Babylon (modern Iraq) and gifted astronomers and astrologers. The Magi made their presence known to King Herod (r. 37-4 B.C.) before offering their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Holy Child. Warned in a dream, they returned to their own country by a different route to avoid King Herod, whom they suspected of evil intentions.

In the 6th century the tradition arose that the Magi were Three Kings, even though it is not certain exactly how many there were, nor was there any particular reason to believe that they were kings (they were not called such by the Fathers of the Church, for example). Their names — Balthasar, Gaspar, and Melchior — were attributed to them in the 8th century.

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