Christmas in Legend and Story by  Elva S. Smith

The Three Holy Kings

Adapted from the Golden Legend, and Other Sources

I N a far country, in the days before Jesus was born in Judea, there were great astrologers who studied the heavens by night and by day, for they knew of the prophecy which said that a star shall be born or spring out of Jacob, and a man shall arise of the lineage of Israel. And twelve of them were chosen to take heed, who every year ascended upon a mountain which was called the Hill of Victory. Three days they abode there, and prayed our Lord that He would show to them the star that Balaam had said and prophesied.

Now it happened on a time, that they were there on the day of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, and a star came over them upon this mountain, which had the form of a right fair child, and under his head was a shining cross, and from this cross came a voice saying: "To-day is there born a King in Judea."

Now in Arabia, the land in which the soil is red with gold, there reigned a king called Melchior. And in Saba, where frankincense flows from the trees, the king Balthasar ruled. And in the land where myrrh hangs from the bushes, the kingdom of Tharsis, reigned a third king, called Caspar. These three kings also saw the star and heard the voice, and they each made ready to go on a journey. And no one of the three knew that the others intended thus to make a pilgrimage. And they gathered together their treasures to present to the king whom they should seek, and summoned those who should attend them. So each set out with a great company and great estate. And as they journeyed they found the mountains made level as the plains, while the swollen rivers became as dry land. And never did they lose sight of the star, which shined upon them as the sun, always moving before them to guide them on their way.

But when they were come within two miles of Jerusalem, the star disappeared, a heavy fog arose, and each party halted; Melchior, as it fell out, taking his stand on Mount Calvary, Balthasar on the Mount of Olives, and Caspar just between them. And when the fog cleared away, each was astonished to see two other great companies besides his own, and then the kings first discovered that all had come upon the same errand, and they embraced with great joy, and rode together into Jerusalem.

And when they came into the city, Herod and all the people were troubled, because of their so great company like unto an army. Then they demanded in what place the King of the Jews was born, for, said they, "We have seen His star in the Orient, and therefore we come to worship Him." And when Herod had heard this, he was much troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Then Herod called all the priests of the law, and the doctors, and demanded of them where Jesus Christ should be born. And when he had understood them that He should be born in Bethlehem, he called the three kings apart and demanded of them diligently the time that the star appeared to them. And he said to them that as soon as they should have found the Child and have worshipped Him, that they should return and show it to him, feigning that he would worship Him also, though he thought that he would go to slay Him.

And as soon as the kings were entered into Jerusalem, the sight of the star was taken from them. But when they were issued out of the city, the star appeared again and went before them, until it came above the place in Bethlehem where the Child was. And they had journeyed now full thirteen days.

And when they had entered into the place they worshipped the young Child, and Mary, His mother. Now the kings had brought great treasures with them, for it must be known that all that Alexander the Great left at his death, and all that the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon, and all that Solomon collected for the temple, had descended to the three kings from their ancestors; and all this they had now brought with them. But when they had bowed down before the Child, they were filled with fear and amazement because of the so great light which was in the place. And they each offered quickly the first thing that came to their hands, and forgot all their other gifts. Melchior offered thirty golden pennies, Balthasar gave frankincense, and Caspar myrrh; but all else they quite forgot, and only remembered that they bowed before the Child, and said "Thanks be to God."


The Adoration of the Kings

And when they would have stayed to do honor to the Holy Child, an angel came to them in a dream, to warn them against Herod, who would do them harm. So they departed each to his own country, journeying for two years. And they preached unto the people, telling them of the new-born King, and everywhere upon the temples men placed the figures of a star, the Child, and a cross.

Now it happened years later that St. Thomas the Apostle journeyed to the far country to preach, and that he wondered why the star was placed upon the temples. Then the priests in those temples told him about the three kings and how they had journeyed to Bethlehem and had seen the young Child.

And the three kings were very old and feeble, but when they heard about St. Thomas, each set out from his own place to go to meet him. And when they had come together they builded them a city, and lived together there for two years, worshipping God and preaching. Then Melchior died, and was buried in a large and costly tomb. And when Balthasar died, he, too, was buried there. And at last Caspar was placed beside his companions.

Now in the days of Constantine the Great, his mother Helena determined to find the bodies of the three kings, and for this she made a journey to the far country. And when she had found them, she brought them to Constantinople to the Church of St. Sophia, where they were held in much honor. And from Constantinople they were taken to Milan, where again many pilgrims came. Now when Frederick Barbarossa laid siege to the city of Milan, he rejoiced above all else to find them there. And by him they were taken to Cologne, and there a golden shrine was built in which the bones of the three holy kings were placed that there they might remain until the Judgment day.

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