The Three Kings Of Cologne
: ARBOR DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
A LEGEND OF THE MIDDLE AGES
BY JOHN OF HILDESHEIM-MODERNIZED BY H. S. MORRIS (ADAPTED)
Now, when the Children of Israel were gone out of Egypt, and had won and
made subject to them Jerusalem and all the land lying about, there was
in the Kingdom of Ind a tall hill called the Hill of Vaws, or the Hill
of Victory. On this hill were stationed sentinels of Ind, who watched
day and night against the Children of Israel, and afterward against the
And if an enemy approached, the keepers of the Hill of Vaws made a great
fire to warn the inhabitants of the land so that the men might make
ready to defend themselves.
Now in the time when Balaam prophesied of the Star that should betoken
the birth of Christ, all the great lords and the people of Ind and in
the East desired greatly to see this Star of which he spake; and they
gave gifts to the keepers of the Hill of Vaws, and bade them, if they
saw by night or by day any star in the air, that had not been seen
aforetime, that they, the keepers, should send anon word to the people
And thus was it that for so long a time the fame of this Star was borne
throughout the lands of the East. And the more the Star was sought for,
and the more its fame increased, so much the more all the people of the
Land of Ind desired to see it. So they ordained twelve of the wisest
and greatest of the clerks of astronomy, that were in all that country
about, and gave them great hire to keep watch upon the Hill of Vaws for
the Star that was prophesied of Balaam.
Now, when Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, His Star began to rise
in the manner of a sun, bright shining. It ascended above the Hill
of Vaws, and all that day in the highest air it abode without moving,
insomuch that when the sun was hot and most high there was no difference
in shining betwixt them.
But when the day of the nativity was passed the Star ascended up into
the firmament, and it had right many long streaks and beams, more
burning and brighter than a brand of fire; and, as an eagle flying and
beating the air with his wings, right so the streaks and beams of the
Star stirred about.
Then all the people, both man and woman, of all that country about when
they saw this marvelous Star, were full of wonder thereat; yet they knew
well that it was the Star that was prophesied of Balaam, and long time
was desired of all the people in that country.
Now, when the three worshipful kings, who at that time reigned in Ind,
Chaldea, and Persia, were informed by the astronomers of this Star, they
were right glad that they had grace to see the Star in their days.
Wherefore these three worshipful kings, Melchior, Balthazar, and Jasper
(in the same hour the Star appeared to all three), though each of them
was far from the other, and none knew of the others' purpose, decided
to go and seek and worship the Lord and King of the Jews, that was new
born, as the appearance of the Star announced.
So each king prepared great and rich gifts, and trains of mules, camels,
and horses charged with treasure, and together with a great multitude of
people they set forth on their journeys.
Now, when these three worshipful kings were passed forth out of their
kingdoms, the Star went before each king and his people. When they
stood still and rested, the Star stood still; and when they went forward
again, the Star always went before them in virtue and strength and gave
light all the way.
And, as it is written, in the time that Christ was born, there was peace
in all the world, wherefore in all the cities and towns through which
they went there was no gate shut neither by night nor by day; and all
the people of those same cities and towns marveled wonderfully as they
saw kings and vast multitudes go by in great haste; but they knew not
what they were, nor whence they came, nor whither they should go.
Furthermore these three kings rode forth over hills, waters, valleys,
plains, and other divers and perilous places without hindrance, for all
the way seemed to them plain and even. And they never took shelter by
night nor by day, nor ever rested, nor did their horses and other beasts
ever eat or drink till they had come to Bethlehem. And all this time it
did seem to them as one day.
But when the three blessed kings had come near to Jerusalem, then a
great cloud of darkness hid the Star from their sight. And when Melchior
and his people were come fast by the city, they abode in fog and
darkness. Then came Balthazar, and he abode under the same cloud near
unto Melchior. Thereupon appeared Jasper with all his host.
So these three glorious kings, each with his host and burdens and
beasts, met together in the highway without the city of Jerusalem. And,
notwithstanding that none of them ever before had seen the other, nor
knew him, nor had heard of his coming, yet at their meeting each one
with great reverence and joy kissed the other. So afterward, when they
had spoken together and each had told his purpose and the cause of his
journey, they were much more glad and fervent. So they rode forth, and
at the uprising of the sun, they came into Jerusalem. And yet the Star
So then these three worshipful kings, when they were come into the city,
asked of the people concerning the Child that was born; and when Herod
heard this he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him, and he privately
summoned to him these three kings and learned of them the time when
the Star appeared. He then sent them forth, bidding them find the young
Child and return to him.
Now when these three kings were passed out of Jerusalem the Star
appeared to them again as it did erst, and went before them till they
were come to Bethlehem.
Now, the nearer the kings came to the place where Christ was born, the
brighter shined the Star, and they entered Bethlehem the sixth hour
of the day. And they rode through the streets till they came before a
little house. There the Star stood still, and then descended and shone
with so great a light that the little house was full of radiance; till
anon the Star went upward again into the air, and stood still always
above the same place.
And the three kings went into the little house and found the Child with
his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him, and offered him gifts.
And you shall understand that these three kings had brought great gifts
from their own lands, rich ornaments and divers golden vessels, and many
jewels and precious stones, and both gold and silver,--these they had
brought to offer to the King of the Jews. But when they found the Lord
in a little-house, in poor clothes, and when they saw that the Star gave
so great and holy a light in all the place that it seemed as though they
stood in a furnace of fire, then were they so sore afraid, that of all
the rich jewels and ornaments they had brought with them, they chose
from their treasures what came first to their hands. For Melchior took
a round apple of gold in his hand, and thirty gilt pennies, and these he
offered unto our Lord; and Balthazar took out of his treasury incense;
and Jasper took out myrrh, and that he offered with weeping and tears.
And now after these three kings had worshiped the Lord, they abode in
Bethlehem for a little space, and as they abode, there came a command
to them, in their sleep, that they should not return to Herod; and so by
another way they went home to their kingdoms. But the Star that had gone
before appeared no more.
So these three kings, who had suddenly met together in the highway
before Jerusalem, went home together with great joy and honor. And when,
after many days' journey over perilous places, they had come to the Hill
of Vaws, they made there a fair chapel in worship of the Child they had
sought. Also they agreed to meet together at the same place once in the
year, and they ordained that the Hill of Vaws should be the place of
So when the three worshipful kings had done what they would, they took
leave of each other, and each one with his people rode to his own land
HOW THEY CAME TO COLOGNE
Now, after many years, a little before the feast of Christmas, there
appeared a wonderful Star above the cities where these three kings
dwelt, and they knew thereby that their time was come when they should
pass from earth. Then with one consent they built, at the Hill of
Vaws, a fair and large tomb, and there the three Holy Kings, Melchior,
Balthazar, and Jasper died, and were buried in the same tomb by their
Now after much time had passed away, Queen Helen, the mother of the
Emperor Constantine, began to think greatly of the bodies of these three
kings, and she arrayed herself, and, accompanied by many attendants,
went into the Land of Ind.
And you shall understand that after she had found the bodies of
Melchior, Balthazar, and Jasper, Queen Helen put them into one chest
and ornamented it with great riches, and she brought them into
Constantinople, with joy and reverence, and laid them in a church that
is called Saint Sophia; and this church the Emperor Constantine did
make,--he alone, with a little child, set up all the marble pillars
Now, after the death of the Emperor Constantine a persecution against
the Christian faith arose, and in this persecution the bodies of
the three worshipful kings were set at naught. Then came the Emperor
Mauricius of Rome, and, through his counsel, the bodies of these three
kings were carried to Italy, and there they were laid in a fair church
in the city of Milan.
Then afterward, in the process of time, the city of Milan rebelled
against the Emperor Frederick the First, and he, being sore beset, sent
to Rainald, Archbishop of Cologne, asking for help.
This Archbishop with his army did take the city of Milan, and delivered
it to the Emperor. And for this service did the Emperor grant, at the
Archbishop's great entreaty, that he should carry forth to Cologne the
bodies of the three blessed kings.
Then the Archbishop, with great solemnity and in procession, did carry
forth from the city of Milan the bodies of the three kings, and brought
them unto Cologne and there placed them in the fair church of Saint
Peter. And all the people of the country roundabout, with all the
reverence they might, received these relics, and there in the city of
Cologne they are kept and beholden of all manner of nations unto this
Thus endeth the legend of these three blessed kings,--Melchior,
Balthazar, and Jasper.