The Feast of The Epiphany (or the Three Kings)

Photo courtesy of the British Library's manuscript collection

A joyous Feast of the Epiphany to all of our friends! In the above picture from the 'Harley Hours', produced in England in the last quarter of the 13th century, the Magi have arrived and present their gifts to the infant Christ. Mary smiles joyfully, and the Star of Bethlehem, which led the Magi, hangs in the clouds above her head.

During the Middle Ages, the feast concentrated on the journey of the Magi, and was refered to as the "Feast of the Three Kings". On the Epiphany, Nativity plays were often performed throughout western Europe. In 1336 Milan, Italy hosted a particularly elaborate play and procession to commemorate the Feast of the Three Kings: three men, dressed as kings, with others dressed as their servants and retinue, traveled through the streets of the city, following a gold star hanging before them. Even meeting King Herod at one juncture, they traveled to 'Bethlehem' in the Church of St. Eustorgius, where they presented their gifts to Mary and the Christ Child, laid in a manger. The church would have sounded with trumpets and horns, and would have been filled to the brim with the crowd that followed them. It was a lively celebration.

The blessing of houses was also a popular commemoration of this feast in the Medieval era. The whole family would go from room to room, the eldest son sprinkling holy water, the father holding burning incense; the rest of the family would follow singing hymn or saying a rosary. Once they finished, they would take a piece of chalk that had been blessed, and write on the door: "13 + C + M + B + 36 which stands for "Anno Domini 1336 -- Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar" and means "The three Holy Kings, Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, in the year of Our Lord, 1336" or whatever the year may be. The letters C, M, and B are also thought to stand for Christus mansionem benedicat, meaning "Christ bless this home." This tradition of blessing the doorways symbolizes the family's commitment to welcome Christ into their homes on a daily basis through the year." 

Though the names of the Kings were not mentioned in the Bible, they were given their western names by the Venerable St. Bede (d. 735), and the tradition of their names and origins were expanded upon and developed in the 14th century.

This day also marks the 12th and final day of Christmas; there are many British feasts and celebrations associated with "Twelfth Night" since the late medieval times. So, a Merry Christmas to all of you, a merry Feast of the Three Kings to all!

N.B. There are many gorgeous images of the Adoration of the Magi, and the British Library has made quite a number of them (and many other pages from illuminated manuscripts!) available to the public; here are some links for general enjoyment:

From a manuscript of painted miniatures of Bible history - Germany, 15th century

Comments

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That was a nice explanation and easily understandable. Find it here

I always used to think about

I always used to think about the journey of these 3 kings when I was a child. It always made me wonder how they believed about the signs and set for a journey that long, only relying the signs they had from the nature.
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The journey of three kings

The journey of three kings has been the most discussed thing in any artwork. The travel of these kings has fascinated me always as in how did they make it on time in a century where the only transport was horses.
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