Christmas in July? (part 2)

Shrine of the Three Kings (detail), Nicholas of Verdun, gold, silver, and semi-precious stones (1190-1220), Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany.

Shrine of the Three Kings (detail), Nicholas of Verdun, gold, silver, and semi-precious stones (1190-1220), Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany.

The Magi were extremely popular in Western Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. They were considered powerful protectors against the “falling sickness” (epilepsy). They were also invoked in all-purpose protective prayers or charms, such as one attributed to Charlemagne.

The Magi were considered to represent the whole of the Gentile world because the three men included an Asian and an African with the European; they underscored the idealized inclusivity of the Christian world. The African magus — and African Christians in Ethiopia, such as the eunuch baptized by the Apostle Phillip in the Acts of the Apostles (8:27) — were looked on as special patrons of the people of Bohemia since both Bohemia and Ethiopia were on the edges of the (western) Christian world. The city of Kandahar in Afghanistan is thought to have been founded by and named for Gaspar, one of the Magi.

The relics of the Magi at Cologne were among the most popular pilgrimage sites in the Middle Ages. Their presence helped bolster the importance of the Germanic bishops both as supporters of the Popes or in opposition to them.

More information about the Magi in the Middle Ages can be found here and here.

The excellent Journey of the Magi by Richard Trexler might by a good thing to read in anticipation of Christmas. Better to read it NOW, before the hectic pre-holiday season arrives!

Christmas in July?

Map of Bones Cvr

Shrine of the Three Magi, Cologne cathedral, Germany

Shrine of the Three Magi, Cologne cathedral, Germany

Shrine of the Three Magi, Cologne cathedral, Germany (another view).

Shrine of the Three Magi, Cologne cathedral, Germany
(another view).

Although the Magi are most often associated with Christmas and Epiphany on December 25 and January 6 each year, they are also associated with July 23, the day their bodies (relics) arrived in Cologne, Germany in 1164.

The relics of the Magi were taken from Milan by Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa and given to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel in 1164. The Three Kings have since attracted a constant stream of pilgrims to Cologne. Parts of the shrine were designed by the famous medieval goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun, who began work on it in 1180 or 1181. It has elaborate gold sculptures of the prophets and apostles, and scenes from the life of Christ. The shrine was completed circa 1225.

Around 1199, King Otto gave three golden crowns made for the three wise men as a present to the church of Cologne. Because of the importance of the shrine and the cathedral for the later development of the city, the Coat of Arms of Cologne still shows these three crowns symbolizing the Three Kings.

Construction of the present Cologne Cathedral was begun in 1248 to house these important relics. The cathedral took 632 years to complete and is now the largest Gothic church in northern Europe.

Map of Bones, a great sci-fi thriller by James Rollins, begins with the celebration of the bones of the Magi in the Cologne cathedral.

A mystery, “The Bishop and the Three Kings” by Andrew Greeley, is about the theft of the shrine.

Read more about the shrine of the Magi in Cologne here.

Veronica and the Shroud

Veronica holding her veil, by Hans Memling (c. 1470)

Veronica holding her veil, by Hans Memling (c. 1470)

According to legend, a woman named Veronica (who is commemorated on July 12) was among the crowds lining the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus carried the cross on his way to be crucified on Golgotha. Feeling pity for him, she stepped forward and wiped the sweat and blood from his face with her veil. Later that evening, she is said to have discovered the image of Christ’s face imprinted on her veil.

Many people think this story is a variation on the story of the Shroud of Turin, said to be the shroud in which Jesus was buried. It was also said to have been imprinted with the image of Jesus’ body in the moment just before his Resurrection. Because of the way the Shroud was traditionally folded when put on display, only the face was visible. This resulted in an image much like the one reputed to have been imprinted on Veronica’s veil. Many also point out that the woman’s name, “Veronica,” is in fact Latin for “true image” or “true/authentic icon” and is more a statement about the cloth than about her historical identity.

The story of the Icon-Made-Without-Hands is also about a Byzantine cloth on which Jesus himself imprinted his face to send to the king of Edessa so that the ailing king might be healed. Again, this “true icon” is said by many to be another version of the same story and that all 3 versions are probably based on the historical kernel that there was indeed a cloth image of Jesus that was venerated by the Church during its early centuries as an authentic, miraculous reproduction of Christ that was thought to work miracles.

This textile image plays an important role in two books that I highly recommend:

The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell is a thriller set in the Vatican in which a long-lost gospel text, a contentious relic [i.e. the Shroud of Turin], and a dying pope’s final wish converge to send two brothers—both Vatican priests—on an intellectual quest to untangle Christianity’s greatest historical mystery.

Death Masks by Jim Butcher is one of his EXCELLENT Harry Dresden series in which Harry, Chicago’s only practising professional wizard, is caught in a duel with the Red Court of Vampires’ champion, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards …Professional hit men using Harry for target practice …The missing Shroud of Turin …A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified …

Both are excellent summertime reading — especially in connection with July 12, the feast of Veronica and her veil!