The Shrine of the Three Kings – The bones of the Biblical Magi are being exhibited in Cologne

A reliquary traditionally believed to contain the bones of the Biblical Magi, also known as the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men. The shrine is a large gilded and decorated triple sarcophagus placed above and behind the high altar of Cologne Cathedral. Construction of the present Cologne Cathedral begun in 1248 to house these important relics.

The “relics of the Magi” were originally situated at Constantinople, but brought to Milan by the city’s bishop, to whom they were entrusted by the Emperor Constantine in 314. Eight centuries later in 1164, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa took the relics of the Magi from the church of Saint Eustorgio in Milan and gave them to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel.

The Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral / Image source

In July, 1864, the shrine was opened, revealing human remains and the coins of Philip I, Archbishop of Cologne. Numerous bones of three persons, which under the guidance of several present experts could be assembled into nearly complete bodies: the one in his early youth, the second in his early manhood, the third was rather aged.

The Shrine of the Three Kings is approximately 100 cm wide, 150 cm high, and 220 cm long. It is shaped like a basilica: two sarcophagi stand next to each other, with the third sarcophagus resting on their roof ridges. The basic structure is made of wood, with gold and silver overlay decorated with filigree, enamel, and over 1000 jewels and beads.

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