The Wise Men are shrouded in so much mystery, tradition and folklore. And no more than in their final resting place. The early church up till and continuing the reign of Roman Catholicism were all caught up with relics of every type. The chance to house even one bone of one of the disciples of Christ enthralled the leaders of every church. People would gather near and far for a chance to catch a glimpse of the holy relic; some in hopes of benefiting from their healing and blessing properties. This was especially true of the remains of the Magi. For the Church was never more enamored with the exotic stories of the Magi as they were at that time.
The earliest story of the death of the Magi came from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas.
Now, to be honest, the so-called ‘Gospel of Thomas’ was discovered in 1945 in a group of writings deemed to be Gnostic in nature although this ‘Gospel’ never proved or disproved any Gnostic beliefs. But like most of the sources for the lives and deaths of the Magi, they are questionable traditions and near myths. But I believe that even in most myths there are shreds of history.
In this legend, it is said that St. Thomas was reluctant to go to his chosen mission field in India. He ended up going into Persia around Edessa where he is celebrated. From there, he met up with the three Magi whom he witnessed to and baptized. It is said that they spread the good news of Jesus all over the region before they died within the same 24 hour period and were buried. Where they were buried is a question for the ages although important historical figures are reported as to finding them in different places.
In 326 AD, the mother of Emperor Constantine, Helena, traveled to the holy lands and gathered many relics, the most famous was supposed to be the cross of Christ itself. Another of her famous finds was the burial place of the Magi while on her pilgrimage to Palestine. She not only found them, but, according to historical tradition, she took the mummified remains to Constantinople to the church of Hagia Sophia ie. the Church of the Holy Wisdom. They stayed there for years. But, as time moved on, it proved to be an unstable land with the coming of the Islamic hoard.
In the late 4th century, the remains were moved to Milan, Italy as a gift to the new Bishop, Eustorgius I. The presence of the remains of the Wise Men spawned a celebration, the Feast of the Epiphany, that became a mainstay in the city.
In AD 1164, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick, known as’the Red’, took the relics of the Magi from Milan to Cologne to find their final resting place in the Cathedral there. In 1225, the gold sarcophagus was designed by goldsmith, Nicholas of Verdun, which still is on display to this day.
Other legends were told of the resting place which include the writings of the renown traveller, Marco Polo, who was said to have been shown the tomb of the Magi south of Tehran in the late thirteenth century.
Where did they end up? I can’t say. Like so many facts about these men, it is not so much about what is history or true about their wanderings after the visit to the Christ child, but who these men actually were and what motivated them to do what they did in responding to the call of God himself that becomes most important.