Every Christmas, the eve of January 6 becomes a magical night in which the little ones look forward to the visit of the wise men. On this day, the Catholic religion celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord and commemorates the moment when, according to tradition, some wise men from the East came to Bethlehem to worship and offer their gifts to the newborn baby Jesus. Known as Three Kings’ Day, it is a festivity full of traditions, in which possible historical facts are mixed with myths and legends that delve into the magic of that special date. There are many countries where the kings travel each year to greet the children in the magical cavalcade before leaving them at home with the expected gifts, but do you know what is true in the story of Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar? If you wonder if the Three Wise Men existed, keep reading this dolboard article and delve into some of the enigmas that surround them.
Did the wise men exist or not?
There is no unanimous and absolutely reliable answer to this question, because personal and religious beliefs prevail in this story and because information about the possible existence of kings is scarce. What is certain is that the Gospel of Saint Matthew records the moment in which, following a star, some wise men arrived in Bethlehem to adore the King of the Jews who had just been born. For Catholics, Saint Matthew’s account is the most reliable ‘clue’ that confirms that the Magi were real historical figures, but it must be remembered that the saint does not say that they were kings, nor does he mention their names or describe their appearance.
Melchior Caspar and Balthazar
Their names are one of the mysteries that surround the Magi, because, as we have indicated, the Bible does not collect them at any time. The name of the Magi appears for the first time in an ancient mosaic from the 6th century, found in the church of San Apollinaire el Nuevo, in Ravenna (Italy). In it, you can see three characters dressed in capes who carry in their hands the offerings in the form of gifts for the Child, the well-known ones: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Above their heads are written the names of Gaspar, curiously the first and with a white beard, Melchior, the youngest-looking one, and Balthasar, who is not represented as a black man, although today he has usually represented that way.
Were there three wise men?
Whether reality or legend, the story of the Three Wise Men is full of symbology. Although it is not known how many actually came to ancient Judea to bow down to the Child, it is believed that the number three may not be exact and is actually a reference to the mystery of the holy trinity. The fact that kings have been represented since the Middle Ages as three characters with different features could refer to the three ages of man (youth, maturity, and old age) or even represent the different territories of the world-known before the fifteenth century (Asia, Europe, and Africa).
Were they wizards?
There is no doubt that the illusion that they arouse in the little ones deserves to be considered magical, but, in reality, it is believed that Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar were not kings or magicians in the current meaning of the word, but wise astrologers, scholars of the firmament, that perhaps they discovered a bright star, perhaps a comet, and followed it to Bethlehem.
What did they do after worship?
According to Christian tradition, on their arrival in Jerusalem, the wise men first visited King Herod, who asked them to return after worshiping the child to tell him where he was so that he could also worship him, but that was not the case. His true intentions.
An angel warned the wise men from the East that Herod intended to kill the unborn Jesus and told them not to return to his palace. They did so and Herod, fearful of this ‘new king of the Jews, ordered the murder of all children under two years of age born in Bethlehem, giving rise to the story or legend of the Holy Innocents.
What became of them?
It is believed that the kings came from the ancient kingdom of Saba, in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, and that they returned there after their journey to Bethlehem. As a curiosity, it must be said that it is currently considered that the relics that are preserved in the Cologne Cathedral belong to the Magi. After his death, his bones were moved several times over the centuries. From Constantinople to Milan, they now finally rest in one of the most important and revered temples in all of Germany.
The tradition of the parade of the Three Kings
Although there is no absolute certainty, the idea that the Magi could have been real historical figures is the most widespread, although they probably were not as the legend that surrounds them has led us to believe. In any case, the procession of the Three Wise Men, which has been celebrated in Spain since the 19th century, is a moment of pure magic that recalls the episode recorded in the Gospel and that shows that what will always exist is the illusion of the children who every Christmas they eagerly await the visit of their Majesties.