The Three Kings of Cologne

The journey of the Three Kings, who came from the East to worship the baby Jesus, is recounted in a few simple sentences in the Gospel of Matthew. 

“….they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen as its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then opening their treasure – chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” Matthew 2: 9 – 12

The story has fascinated medieval story tellers and artists ever since, who have elaborately depicted the journey of the magi throughout the ages. But what about the final expedition of the three kings to their place of rest, a journey that took their bodies further afield to India, Italy and finally to Germany? 

The sarcophagus containing the relics of the three kings that can be seen in Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Cologne Cathedral in Germany hosts a triple sarcophagus containing their relics, an ornate shrine that owes its place to St Helena who discovered the bodies of the wise men in India in the 4th century and took them to Constantinople. After her son the Emperor Constantine died, a persecution against the Christian faith arose and the bodies of the three kings were brought to Emperor Mauricius of Rome in the 12th century. Here they lay in Milan until they were given to the Archbishop of Cologne by Emperor Frederick the First after they were no longer safe in Milan due to rebellion. They have been revered here ever since. (To read more, go to ‘The Three Kings of Cologne’ by John of Hildesheim 14th century) 

I visited Cologne Cathedral in 2019, a place of cascading light and architectural wonder. It is a masterpiece of medieval gothic architecture with its immense twin towers and lavish decoration. It is the largest Gothic church in northern Europe standing at 157 metres tall and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.  This impressive and stately shrine and its precious relics continue to fascinate modern visitors each year… The three kings, the very first Christian pilgrims now an object of pilgrimage themselves! Curiosity about the relics have also prevailed inspiring scientists, who studied the phenomenon of the star that led the three kings to where Christ was born, to open the remains and carry out scientific examinations. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the remains were removed from Cologne Cathedral.

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