The Three Magi are mentioned in the gospel of Matthew 2: 1-2:


The Magi Visit the Messiah

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,[1] Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

5 In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.

8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.

10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.Then they opened their treasures and presented him with giftsof gold, frankincense and myrrh.


In later writings, the "wise" are called kings or magicians, and they were called Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar


An image of the Three Kings in St. Mary Maggiore in Rome, on the mosaic in the apse.

The kings in Persian dress.


Early representations are in the S. Vitale in  Ravenna (ca. 580) on the mantle of Empress Anastasia on the southern wall, and in the S. Apollinare Nuovo, also in Ravenna (6th cent.)



The kings are dressed here like persian satraps or vice-kings from the time of the Sassanid Empire. They wear a short tunica and trousers.  On their shoulders a short mantle with a broad collar, all lavishly embroidered. On their heads phrygian caps.


The Three Kings from the Gospels of Echmiadzin (7th cent.) are dressed in the same way [2].


Adoration of the Magi

in: Gospels of Echmiadzin


Adoration of the Magi

In the Stuttgarter Psalter, 830 ca


Sant’ Eustorgio: Tomba dei Re Magi


At a certain moment, the supposed physical remains of the Three Kings came to Milan and were buried in a large sarcophagus in Sant’Eustorgio church. This sarcophagus, probably an emperor's sarcophagus, is still located in Sant’Eustorgio.

After the burning down of Milan by Emperor Frederik Barbarossa (1157), the relics were transferred to Cologne where a very lucrative worship came about. Huppertz  writes:


Transfer of the Three Kings.


A benefaction of great importance was done to Cologne Cathedral by Archbishop Rainald von Dassel in 1164 when he asked Frederick Barbarossa for the physical remains, not only of the martyrs Felix and Narbor but also of those of the Holy Three Kings, as a reward for his services as a chancelor of the Empire. The qualification “Kings” instead of “Magi” or “Wise men from the East” like in the Gospels, they only received later, referring to the prophesies from the Old Testament about Kings who would bring Gold, Incense and Myrrh as a present  to the expected Messias. This also explains the threesome which only became traditional later.

On 23 Juy 1164 the highly venerated relics Rainald von Dassed brought with him, arrived in Cologne Cathedral. The possesion of them caused a golden age for the Cathedral. The three Wizards from the East, so miraculously guided by a star to the Saviour, were venerated as the first pilgrims to the Holy Land and as the patrons saints of the travelers. In that way it came to be that, in the time that many pilgrims from the west went to see the holy places, and the crusaders were united to liberate them, many of them first directed their steps to Cologne to pray for their support on the road. Poor and rich, nobody came empty handed, clerics and secular princes appeared, kneeled and prayed. Cologne Cathedral had become one of the most prestigious places of pilgrimage of Christendom. [3]



The Shrine of the Three Holy  Kings [....] dates from around 1180-1220 and is mainly attributed to  Master Nikolaus of Verdun, of which also a large enameled altarpiece in the monastery of Klosterneuburg near Vienna and the younger shrine of the Virgin  in Tournay are documented. Of his hand are, next to a number of enamels, presumably all the lower figures of the prophets on the longitudinal sides on the Shrine.

At the front under a semicircular arch,  Mary with the divine child is represented, approached from the left side by the Holy Three Kings. Their statuettes were, apparently much later, crowned with pointed crowns, the co-called heathen crowns.


In the middle of the fourteenth century coats of arms of the Three Magi were invented.


Armorial Gelre, fol.28v.


1. Kaspar: Azure, a decrescent with a six-pointed star Or.

Crest: On a crowned helmet a bearded man’s head.

2. Melchior: Azure, six six-pointed stars of Or, 3.2 and 1.

Crest: On a crowned helmet an eight-pointed faceted star Or.

3. Balthasar: Or, a standing moor in red tunic with a spear in the left hand.

Crest: On a crowned helmet, a moor’s head proper.


The arms of Kaspar are comparable to the (later) symbol of Mehmed the Conqueror (1451-'81) in Caoursin's handwriting (1480), which consists of a blue ball charged with a golden crescent and an eight-pointed star or sun. [4] At that time, this symbol should be regarded as the symbol of the "Land of Rum", meaning Anatolia as part of the Byzantine Empire. The most important aspect of the title of Sultan of Rum is the association with a defined territorial sovereignty. The Great Seljuks had been the Sultans of Islam who exercised the only and indivisible worldly power in the universal Islamic state. The Seldjuks of Rum - and the Ottomans who revived their claims and titles – had been Sultans of Rum, that is, of a clearly defined country and people. Anatolia was meant by the land of Rum, and for a while the Turks were even called Rum, to the country they inhabited. The expansion of the Ottomans in Europe reinforced this claim. The state areas of Rum - of the Byzantine Empire, or better of Greek Orthodox Christianity - were in Europe as well as in Asia, and it was a natural fact that the new rulers of a significant part of the legacy tried to  get it completely. And so, the new area of Rumelia was added to the ancient land of Rum (Anatolia), both part of the inheritance of the Sultan of Rum.

From this, it could be deduced that Kaspar’s coat of arms is the symbol / coat of arms of the Seldjuks of Rum in the 13th and 14th centuries, in particlar the Karamanides and, at that time, for example, sultan Sulayman (from 1361) and Ala al din (since 1397).


The arms of Melchior reminds the flags of "Orenburg" and "Cato" in the Golden Horde Khanate in the Book of Knowledge n°s 78 & 92. These are strewn with 8-pointed stars on a purple and red background. [5]


These arms were taken for granted in later representations


The arms of the Three Magi

In Ulrich Richental’s Council of Konstanz 1417 ca


There are also some other representations of the arms of the Three Magi in Cologne Cathedral, for example the Triptych of Stephan Lochner (*1400-†1451) in the Choir of St. Mary, showing the banners of the Three Magi. In other representations of the Adoration of the Magi  the opportunity was sometimes taken to represent the donor(s) as one of them.


Stephan Lochner: Adoration of the Magi

The Magi now dressed in 15th century western fashion


Adoration of the Magi

By the Master of the Aachen Altar, an unknown 16th century painter

Gemäldegalerie, Berlin


Æ See also: Biblical Magi



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 © Hubert de Vries 2017-08-21




[1] Herodes Archelaus, ethnarch van Judea, Idumea en Samaria. 4 vC. - 6 nC.

[2] Jerevan, Matenadaran, N° 2374, fol. 229 (In: L'art Arménien p. 76).

[3] Huppertz, Andreas: Der Kölner Dom und seine Kunstschätze. Köln, 1960. pp. 23 ev. 74 e.v.

[4] Caoursin, Guillaume: Obsidionis Rhodiæ urbis descriptio. fol. 8r°

[5] Book of the Knowledge of all the kingdoms, lands, and lordships that are in the world. (ca 1350) Works issued by the Hakluyt Society. 2nd series N° XXIX. 1912