They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. ―Matthew 2:10–11

The Magi truly were “wise men” in their genuine desire to seek out truth and goodness. Through their search for life’s meaning in the skies, they discovered a star, which led them to believe that a supreme new king had been born. Thus, full of faith, they began their long journey from points east toward Judea.

After traveling great distances, the Magi stopped in Jerusalem. King Herod heard about these curious mystics and met with them to hear their story. When informed by his chief priests and scribes that Bethlehem would be the place of the newborn king, Herod sent the Magi there, requesting that they return with details on the specific whereabouts of the baby. He let the Magi think that he was interested in paying homage to the king himself; secretly, however, he wanted to plan the death of this infant who threatened his sense of power.

As the Magi approached Bethlehem, the star seemed to settle over one spot. They approached the place and found the child king of the Jews. These truth-seeking Gentiles fell face down, clearly understanding they were before someone of greatness even though his surroundings were meek. They presented to him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh―exquisite offerings that symbolized kingship, divinity and death. It is these three gifts that have encouraged historians to suggest that there were three Magi.

Before the Magi left Bethlehem, they were warned in a dream of Herod’s murderous plan and returned to their homes by a route far from Herod’s path. Their brief time with Jesus was quite profound, for it signified an invitation for Gentiles to God through Jesus.

A few centuries later, Saint Helena discovered the remains of the Magi. July 24 honors the transferal of their relics to the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. For many years, it was a tradition for German kings to make a pilgrimage to the altar of the Magi following their coronations.

 

Pondering the Holy Wise Men through Scripture

The Church honors the placement of the relics of the Magi in Cologne on July 24 (formerly July 23), yet also gives honor to these truth-seekers on the feast of Epiphany. They are the patrons of travelers and sudden death. Below are some passages from the Bible to ponder and study—to enhance your understanding of these saints and their impact on Christianity.

  • Matthew 2:1–12
  • Matthew 2:16
  • Psalm 72:10–11
  • Isaiah 60:6