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Archive for January, 2015

Skeletons in the closet, no in the church!

Cologne_Cathedral_Shrine_of_MagiIn a previous article we mentioned briefly that the Cologne Cathedral was conceived to provide a place of worship for the then Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and a final resting place for the bones of the Three Wise Men/ Kings. Today we would like to tell you a little bit more about their journey and the customs that evolved in the 19th and 20th century in Europe.

It’s been a long time…

1280px-Magi_(1)… and it all depends who you listen to! There are several legends and traditions regarding the final resting places of the Three Wise Men. Marco Polo for example claimed that he saw them in a tomb at Saveh (Saba) south of Tehran around 1270. Which conflicts with another legend: in 1164 they had been transferred to Cologne by order of the then Holy Roman Emperor. As there are no other commentaries supporting Marco Polo’s statement, Christianity has adopted the version that places them in Cologne.

According to this legend Saint Helena discovered them during her pilgrimage in the Holy Land around 310-320AD. She brought them with her and gave them to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Later they were moved to Milan – between 343 and 349AD – and in 1164 Frederick Barbarossa exerted his authority and sent them to Cologne, where his Cathedral was being designed.

What’s happening now?

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In Christian societies the 5th or 6th of January is celebrated as Epiphany, commemorating the revelation of Jesus as Son of God and a human being. In Germany – in mainly Catholic parts – the day is celebrated by star singers going from house to house, singing Christmas carols and afterwards writing the three kings’ initials (C+M+B: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) and the year on the door frames to bless the house. The initials not only signify the Names of the kings, but also mean that the house has been blessed (Christus mansionem benedicat). The star singers are dressed up as the Three Wise Men carrying a star in front of them and collecting donations which go to a charity, selected each year by the local diocese. In the family it is generally celebrated with volunteer work organized by the church and a quiet afternoon tea.

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In other countries the traditions vary, ranging from a parade with sweets given to the children, to putting food out for the kings and the camels (cut grass under the bed!) and consuming special cakes which hold a baby Jesus and a bean. Depending in which country you eat the cake and find the bean, you either have to pay for it (Spain and Portugal) or will be crowned king for the day (France and Belgium)!

 

 

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New Year Resolutions

We hope you all have had a wonderful start to the New Year! Hopefully one of your resolutions will be the decision to come and see these wonderful German sights that we tell you about in our articles. If you’d like to know more about anything in particular or have any questions regarding our tours, please contact us and we will do our best to answer your questions.

Author: Petra Alsbach-Stevens

 

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