THE THREE KINGS OF COLOGNE
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 Romans.
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 of Ind.
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
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
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
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 appeared not.
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 their burial.
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 rejoicing.
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 sorrowing people.
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 thereof.
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
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 day.
Thus endeth the legend of these three blessed kings,—
Melchior, Balthazar, and Jasper.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics