|« Prev||XIII. THE JOURNEY OF THE THREE HOLY KINGS TO…||Next »|
[1821. Catherine Emmerich had already, in the course of 1819 and 1820, communicated a series of visions of the three holy kings’ journey to Bethlehem. But, as at that time she was following the dates of the feasts of the Church in her contemplations, the period of thirteen days from Christmas to the Epiphany was too short for their long journey, and she communicated only some descriptions of single halting-places. As, however, in 1821 she dated the day of Christ’s birth a month earlier, that is to say on November 25 th, and saw the departure of the kings for Judea on that day, there remained a space of about a month’s time for the journey. She said, in defining its length, ‘I always saw the kings approaching Bethlehem when I was putting out the Crib in the convent,’—that is to say, about December 25 th. Thus, it is more likely that Herod would no longer find the Child in Bethlehem after the departure of the kings, since the departure of the holy family could then have already occurred.]
1. THE KINGS SEE THE STAR AND BEGIN THEIR TRAVEL.
[November 25 th :] I have already related on Christmas Day how I saw the Birth of Christ being announced to the kings on Christmas night. I saw Mensor and the dark-skinned Seir gazing at the stars from a field in Mensor’s country. 114114 The names of the three kings as given by AC, Mensor, Seir, and Theokeno, find no documentary parallel, nor is there anywhere any information about their homelands or their subsequent history (infra, p. 114 ). The apocryphal Protev. 21 adds nothing to St. Matthew’s account. For latter names, see n. 120, p. 111 . (SB) Everything was prepared for their departure. They were on a pyramid-shaped tower looking through long tubes at the Star of Jacob, which had a tail. The star split asunder before their eyes, and I saw a great shining virgin appear therein, before whom a radiant child hovered in the air. At his right hand a branch grew forth, bearing, like a flower, a little tower with several entrances. This tower was finally transformed into a city. I cannot remember the picture completely. Immediately after seeing this picture they both started off. Theokeno, the third king, lived a few days’ journey farther to the east. He saw the same star-picture in the same hour, and set off at once in great haste in order to overtake his two friends quickly, which he succeeded in doing.
[November 26 th:] I went to sleep with a great longing to be with the Mother of God in the Cave of the Nativity, and to be given by her the Infant Jesus to hold in my arms for a little and to press Him to my heart. I did come there, at night. Joseph was asleep behind his partition to the right of the entrance, his head resting on his right arm. Mary sat at her usual place beside the Crib; she was awake, and held the Infant Jesus to her breast under her veil. When she sat watching in the daytime, a piece of her coverlet was rolled up to make a pillow behind her back as a support; now, at night, she lay back on her couch so that her head was lower. I fell on my knees and prayed with great longing that I might hold the Child for a little. Ah, she knew well what I wanted: she knows everything and accepts everything with such loving, touching sympathy if one prays with real faith; but she was so still, so quiet and so full of adoring mother-love, and she did not give me the Child—I think because she was suckling Him. I would not have either. But my longing increased continually, and joined in the stream of longing of all the souls who yearn for the Infant Jesus. This burning desire for Our Savior was, however, nowhere so pure, innocent, child-like, and true as in the hearts of the beloved holy kings from the East, all of whose ancestors had for centuries waited for Him, in faith, hope, and love. So my longing drew me then to them, and when I had finished my adoration, I crept softly and reverently out of the cave, so as to make no disturbance, and was taken on a long journey, in the train of the three holy kings. On this journey I saw many things—many strange countries and dwellings and many different peoples, their clothes and their manners and customs as well as many idolatrous ceremonies that they performed; but I have forgotten most of it. I will relate as well as I can what still remains clear in my memory.
I was taken eastwards to a region where I had never been before. It was mostly sand and desert. On some of the hills lived people in groups of five to eight, like families, inhabiting huts made of brushwood. The brushwood roof was built against the hill out of which the living-rooms were hollowed. On going in, I saw that the huts were divided into rooms by partitions. The front and back rooms were larger than the central ones. Nothing at all grew in that region but low bushes, and here and there a little tree bearing buds out of which the people pulled white wool. Besides these I saw a few larger trees under which they had placed their idols. These men must have been still in a very wild state, for they seemed to me to eat little but meat, and even the raw flesh of birds. They seemed to live partly by robbery. They were as dark as copper and had foxy yellow hair. They were small, thick-set, and rather fat, but very skilful, agile, and active. They seemed to have no domestic animals and no flocks or herds. They wore, I saw, but little clothing. [Please refer to Figure 17.] The men had short aprons hanging in folds under their girdle before and behind, and wore on their breast a sort of narrow diagonally ribbed scapulary, fastened across the shoulders and round the neck. This narrow breast-covering seemed to be elastic and could be pulled out longer. Their whole back down to the girdle was uncovered except for the strap across the shoulders. On their heads they wore hoods tied round with a band, and having a sort of rosette or knot on the forehead. The women wore short skirts half-way down to the knee; the breast and the lower part of the body was covered with what looked like the front of a jacket, the edge of which came down to the girdle. This garment was closed at the neck with a strip of stuff of the shape and size of a stole; it was scalloped round the shoulders, but plain over the breast. Their head-covering was a cap crowned by a button shaped like a truncated goblet. This cap was drawn down to make a point over the forehead, and covered the ears and part of the cheek. Behind the ears and at the back of the head this cap had loose flaps of stuff between which cushions of hair could be seen. The breast-covering of the women was colored, and was quilted or embroidered with yellow and green designs. It was decorated in front down the middle with buttons and scalloped on the shoulders. The embroidery was rather coarse, as on old vestments. Their upper arms were covered with bracelets.
Figure 17. An Eastern man and woman making wool cords.
These people made blankets or something like them out of the white wool, which they took from the buds of the little trees. Two of them tied a wad of this wool round their bodies, and each walked backwards away from the other, spinning from the wool round the other one’s body a very long cord as thick as a finger. These cords they then plaited together to make broad strips. When they had prepared a great number of them, they went in troops, bearing great rolls of these blankets on their heads, to sell them in a town.
Here and there in this region I saw their idols under great trees. They had heads of horned oxen with wide-open mouths, and lower down in their body was a wider opening where fire was lit, to burn the offerings placed in the smaller openings. Round these idol-trees stood little stone pillars on each of which were small figures of other animals, such as birds, dragons, and a figure with three dogs’ heads and a coiled snake’s tail.
At the beginning of my journey I had the feeling of there being a great piece of water to my right from which I was, however, always going farther away. After I had left the region inhabited by these people, my path continually ascended, and I had to cross a mountain ridge of white sand, covered in many places with all kinds of little broken black stones, like broken pots and dishes. On the farther side of this ridge I came down a valley into a region covered with many trees growing in almost regular rows. There were trees there with scaly trunks and enormous leaves, also pyramid-shaped ones with very big, beautiful flowers; these last had yellowish-green leaves and branches with buds. I also saw trees with quite smooth heart-shaped leaves.
Thereafter I came into a region consisting of wide endless pasture-lands between hills, where there were countless flocks and herds of different kinds. Vines grew on the slopes of the hills, and were cultivated, for there were rows of them on terraces, protected by little wattle fences. The owners of the herds lived in tents with flat roofs; the entrance was closed by a door of light wickerwork. These tents were made of the white woolen stuff woven by the wild people I had seen, but they were covered over with pieces of brownish stuff overlapping each other like scales and hanging down in a shaggy edge. They looked as if they were made of moss or fur. One big tent stood in the middle, and many smaller ones in a wide circle round it. The flocks and herds, divided according to their kind, went out into the wide pastures, interspersed here and there in the distance with expanses of bushes, like low woods. I was able to distinguish herds of very different kinds of animals. I saw sheep with fleeces of long twisted wool and long woolly tails, and also very agile animals with horns like he-goats: these were as big as calves; others were the size of the horses which run wild on our moors at home. I also saw droves of camels and animals like them only with two humps. In one place I saw some elephants in an enclosure, white ones and spotted ones; they were quite tame and were used only for domestic work.
In this vision I was thrice interrupted by having my attention turned in other directions, but I always came back— though at another time of day—to this picture of pastoral activity. These herds and pasturages seemed to me to belong to one of the kings now on their travels: I think it was Mensor and his family. They were tended by under-shepherds wearing coats reaching to the knee, rather like the coats worn by our peasants, only that they fitted tight round the body. I think that now that their chief was going away for some long time, all the herds were being examined and counted by overseers, and the under-shepherds had to render account, for from time to time I saw more important people arriving in long cloaks and inspecting everything. They went into the big central tent, and the herds were then driven past between it and the small tents to be counted and looked at. The persons who received the reckonings had in their hands tablets, I do not know of what material, on which they wrote something. I thought as I watched them: ‘How I wish our bishops would examine as diligently the flocks in the care of their under-shepherds.’
When I again returned to the pasturages after the last interruption, it was night. A deep stillness rested on the place. Most of the shepherds were asleep under the small tents, only a few crept about, watching over the sleeping herds. These lay at rest in great enclosures, divided according to their kind, some crowded together and some less so. It was for me a deeply moving and edifying sight—this great pasture full of peacefully sleeping herds, the servants of mankind, and above them the immeasurable expanse of the deep-blue pastures of heaven, filled with countless stars—stars which had come forth at the bidding of their almighty Creator. They follow the voice of their shepherd like true sheep with greater obedience than the sheep of earth give to their mortal shepherds. And, when I saw the waking shepherds wandering to and fro and turning their eyes more to the starry flocks above than to the earthly ones below who were entrusted to their care, I thought within myself: they are right to look up in astonishment and gratitude to where their ancestors have for centuries turned their expectant gaze in longing and prayer. The good shepherd seeks for the lost sheep and rests not till he has found it and brought it home; so does the Heavenly Father, the true Shepherd of all these countless flocks of stars in immeasurable space. When man, whom He had made lord of the earth, sinned, and as a punishment the earth became cursed to him, God sought out fallen man and his home the earth like the lost sheep. He even sent down His only-begotten Son to become man, to bring the lost sheep home, to take upon Himself as the Lamb of God, the sins of mankind, and, by dying Himself, to make satisfaction for those sins to the divine justice. And now the coming of the promised Redeemer was at hand, and the kings of these shepherds, led by a star, had set forth the night before to pay homage to the newborn Redeemer. That was why the watchers of the flocks looked up in awe and adoration to the heavenly pastures, for the Shepherd of the shepherds came down from above, and His coming was announced first of all to the shepherds.
While I was meditating on all this in the wide pasture-land, I was aware of the stillness of the night being broken by the sound of hoofs hurriedly approaching: it was a troop of men riding on camels. They passed quickly by the sleeping herds to the main tent of the shepherds’ encampment. Woken by the noise, some of the camels got up from their sleeping position and stretched their long necks towards the riders, and lambs woke up bleating. Some of the new-corners alighted from their beasts and woke the sleeping shepherds in the tents, while the nearest herdsmen came up to greet the riders. Soon all were awake and gathered round the new arrivals; there was much talking, and all looked and pointed at the stars. They were speaking of a star or of some apparition in the heavens, which must have already disappeared, for I did not see it. These newcomers were Theokeno and his train. He was the third king and the one who lived farthest away. He had seen in his home the same picture in the skies, and had at once set forth and journeyed to this place. He asked how far ahead of him Mensor and Seir might be, and whether the star whose guidance they had followed could still be seen. After receiving the news for which he asked, Theokeno and his followers went on their way quickly without any delay. This was the place where the three kings, coming from their separate homes, used generally to meet to observe the stars. The pyramidal tower, from which they looked at the stars through long tubes, was close by. Theokeno lived farther away than the others, beyond the region which was Abraham’s first dwelling-place. They all lived near that region.
2. VISIONS OF ABRAHAM, HAGAR, AND ISHMAEL.
In the intervals between the visions of the three days during which I saw what was happening on that wide pasture-land, I was shown much about the places in which Abraham lived, but have forgotten most of it. Once, in the distance, I saw the mountain on which Abraham was preparing to sacrifice Isaac. Another time I was shown very clearly Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, although this happened a long way from here. I cannot remember in what connection this was. Abraham’s first dwelling-place was high up, and the lands of the three kings were below and round it. I will here describe the picture of Ishmael and Hagar. 115115 Hagar and Ishmael: Gen. 21.14-21. (SB)
At the side of Abraham’s mountain, more towards the lower part of the valley, I saw Hagar and her son wandering about in the bushes; she seemed quite beside herself. The boy was only a few years old and was wearing a long dress. His mother was wrapped in a long cloak which covered her head; under it she wore a short dress, the upper part of which was tight round her body, and her arms, too, were tightly wrapped round. She laid the child under a tree on a hill, and made signs on his forehead, on the middle of his right upper arm, on his breast, and on his left upper arm. When she went away I did not see the mark on his forehead, but the other marks, which had been made on his clothing, remained visible as if drawn in red-brown color. These marks were in the form of a cross, but not an ordinary one. They were like a Maltese cross, only the points of the four triangles were arranged in the shape of a cross round a ring. In the four triangles she wrote signs or letters, like hooks, whose significance I could not clearly retain in my mind; I saw her also write two or three letters in the ring, in the middle. She drew this very rapidly with some red color, which she seemed to have in her hand (or perhaps it was blood). As she did this she kept her thumb and forefinger pressed together. Thereupon she turned round, gazed up to heaven, and did not look round again at her son. She went about a gun-shot’s distance away and sat down under a tree. She heard a voice from heaven; rose up and went farther away. Again she heard a voice, and saw a spring of water under the leaves. She filled her leather water-bottle at the spring, and going back to her son gave him to drink and led him to the spring, where she put another garment over the one she had marked with crosses. That is what I remember of this vision. I think that I saw Hagar in the desert twice before, once before the birth of her son, and the second time with the young Ishmael as now.
3. THEOKENO CATCHES UP TO THE TRAIN OF MENSOR AND SAIR IN A DESERTED CITY.
[The night of November 27 th-28 th. When Catherine Emmerich communicated in 1821 these visions of the journey of the three holy kings, she had already related the whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and had amongst other things seen how, after the raising of Lazarus (which she saw happening on September 7 th of the third year of His ministry), He withdrew beyond the Jordan. During His sixteen weeks’ absence there, He visited the three holy kings who on their return from their journey to Bethlehem had settled all together, with their attendants, nearer to the Promised Land. 116116 No such visit of Our Lord to the abode of the three kings in Arabia is recorded in the Gospels. (SB) Only Mensor and Theokeno were alive then. The dark-skinned Seir was in his grave when Jesus came there. It seems necessary to inform the reader about these events (which were thirty-two years later in date but described earlier by Catherine Emmerich) in order that certain references to them in what follows may be understandable.]
In the night of the 27 th to the 28 th of November I saw, as day began to dawn, Theokeno and his retinue overtake Mensor and Seir, after whom they had been hurrying, in a deserted city with great rows of isolated high columns. By the gates, which were square ruined towers, and in other places stood many large and beautiful statues not so stiff as in Egypt but in beautiful living attitudes. This region was very sandy and rocky. In the ruins of this deserted city people who looked like bands of robbers had settled themselves. They wore nothing but a skin round their bodies and carried spears in their hands. They were brown in color, short, and stocky, but remarkably agile. (I had a feeling that I had been in this place before, perhaps on those journeys which I made in my dreams to the mountain of the Prophet and the river Ganges.) After the three kings and their followers had met here, they left at dawn in haste to continue their journey. Many of the rabble who lived here joined them because of the kings’ generosity. (After Christ’s death two disciples, Saturnin and Jonadab, the half-brother of Peter, were sent by St. John the Evangelist to this deserted city to preach the Gospel. 117117 She saw the procession of the kings passing through this town on the feast of St. Saturninus (Nov. 27th) of whom she possesses a relic; that is why she mentioned his connection with this place. The writer read later in the legend of this saint in Fleurs des Vies Saintes that Saturninus preached the Gospel in Asia as far as Media. (CB) )
4. THE HISTORICAL COLORS AND NAMES OF THE THREE HOLY KINGS.
I now saw all the three holy kings together. The last arrival was the one who lived farthest away, Theokeno. His face was of a beautiful yellowish color. (I recognized him as the one who was lying ill in his tent, when thirty-two years later Jesus visited the kings in their settlement nearer the Promised Land.) Each of the three kings had with him four near relations or friends of his family, so that, counting the kings, there were fifteen important people of the party, besides the crowd of servants and camel-drivers that followed them. Amongst the many youths in their retinue, who were quite naked from the waist upwards, and were astonishingly agile in leaping and running, I recognized the young Eleazar, who later became a martyr and of whom I possess a relic. 118118 There is no available evidence about the martyr Eleazar. (SB)
[In the afternoon, when her confessor again asked her for the names of the three holy kings, she answered, ‘Mensor, the brown-faced
one, after Christ’s death received the name of Leander on his baptism by St. Thomas. Theokeno, the old, yellow-faced one,
who was ill when Jesus visited Mensor’s camp in Arabia, was baptized Leo by St. Thomas. The brown-skinned one, who was already
dead when Jesus made His visit, was called Seir or Sair.’ Her confessor asked her: ‘How then was he baptized?’ She answered
smiling and without hesitation: ‘He was already dead and had received the baptism of desire.’ Her confessor then said: ‘I
have never heard these names in my life: how then did they get the names of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar?’ She replied:
‘They were called this because it goes with their character, for these names mean: (1) He goes with love; (2) He wanders about,
he approaches gently and with ingratiating manners: (3) He makes rapid decisions, he quickly directs his will to the will
of God.’ She said this with great friendliness, and expressed the meaning of the names by making pantomimic gestures with
her hand on the bed-coverlet. It must remain for the language experts to decide how far these words can be made to bear these
According to the Ramsgate
Book of Saints (1947),
the names Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthasar were attributed to the Magi in the eighth century. The names themselves are not
known before this, although Balthasar appears as a by-form of Belshazzar (
Dan. 5.1), which is a pagan Babylonian name
(‘Bel protect the king’), and Melchior, if a Hebrew name
could mean ‘My king is light’.
The meanings given by AC are most obscure. The Legenda Aurea (Jan. 6th) gives their names as Appellius, Amerius, and Damascus in Greek; Galgalat, Malgalat, and Sarathin in Hebrew; and Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthasar in Latin; and adds that their bodies were found by Helena and taken to Constantinople, whence later to Milan, and finally to Cologne. (SB) ]
5. THE TRAIN OF THE THREE HOLY KINGS RESTS AT A SPRING.
[November 28 th:] It was not, I think, until a half-day’s journey from the deserted city with its many columns and statues that I first really joined the three kings and their train. It was in a more fertile region. One could see shepherds’ dwellings here and there, with walls of black and white stones. The travelers came to a spring of water in the plain near which there were several large sheds, open at the side. Three stood in the middle with others round them. This seemed to be a customary halting-place for caravans. I saw that the whole procession was divided into three separate parties; each had five leaders, one being the chief or king, who, like a master of the house, saw to everything, gave orders, and apportioned the work. The members of each of these three parties had faces of different colors. Mensor’s tribe was of a pleasing brownish color, Seir’s was brown, and Theokeno’s a bright yellow. I saw none shining black in color except some slaves, who were in all three parties. The leaders sat on their high-loaded beasts between bundles covered with carpets. They had staffs in their hands. They were followed by other beasts, almost as big as horses and ridden by servants and slaves with luggage. When they arrived at the halting-place they dismounted, unloaded the beasts completely and watered them at the spring, which was surrounded by a little rampart on which was a wall with three openings in it. The cistern was at the bottom of this enclosure; it had a fountain with three water-pipes closed by pegs. The cistern was covered with a lid, which a man who had come with them from the deserted city opened in return for a fee. They had leather vessels, which could be folded up quite flat, with four partitions. These were filled with water, and four camels always drank from them at the same time. They were very careful with the water, and not a drop was allowed to be wasted. After drinking, the camels were led into open enclosures near the spring, each in a separate compartment. Fodder which had been brought with them was shaken out into the stone troughs in front of them; it consisted of grains of the size of acorns (perhaps beans). Amongst the baggage there were also big square bird-cages, narrow and high, hanging by the sides of the camels under the larger packages. In these were birds, single or in couples, according to their size; they were as big as pigeons or liens, and were kept in separate compartments as food on the journey. They carried their loaves of bread, which were all of the same size, in leather cases, packing the slabs tightly together and taking out only so much as they needed each time. They had with them very costly vessels of yellow metal, some of them ornamented with precious stones. These were almost exactly like our chalices and incense-boats in shape; they drank from them and handed round food on them. The rims of most of these vessels were set with red jewels.
The three tribes differed somewhat in their clothing. [Please refer to Figure 18.] Theokeno, the yellow-skinned, and his family, as well as Mensor, the light-brown one, wore high hoods embroidered in colors with a strip of thick white stuff wound round them. Their coats, which were very simple, with few buttons or ornaments on the breast, reached almost to their ankles. They wrapped themselves in light cloaks, very full and flowing, so that they trailed on the ground behind them. Seir, the brown-skinned one, and his family wore caps with little white pads and round hoods embroidered in colors on which was a disc of another color. Their cloaks were shorter than the others’, but longer at the back than in front; their coats were buttoned to the knee and were decorated at the breast with braid and tinsel and thickly set with shining buttons. On one side of the breast they wore a shining little shield like a star. All wore sandals, the soles of which were fastened round their bare feet with cords. The more important ones had short swords or long knives in their girdles, with many pouches and boxes hanging from their waists. Amongst the kings and their families were men of fifty, forty, thirty, and twenty years of age. Some had long and some short beards. The servants and camel-drivers were dressed much more simply, some wearing only one piece of stuff or an old blanket.
Figure 18. Two of the three kings: Theokeno and Seir.
When the camels had been watered, fed, and stabled, the travelers, after drinking, made a fire in the middle of the shed under which they had camped. The firewood consisted of pieces some two and a half feet long brought by poor people from near by in very neat bundles; they seemed to have a store of it ready for travelers. The kings made a triangular fireplace and piled up the long pieces round it, leaving an opening on one side for the draught. It was very cleverly arranged. I am not sure how they made fire: I saw that one of them kept turning one piece of wood in another, as if in a box, and then pulled it out alight. They then lit the fire, and I saw them kill some of the birds and roast them. Each of the three kings acted towards his tribe like the head of a family: he distributed the food, laying the carved-up birds and little loaves of bread on small howls or plates standing on short feet, and handed them round. In the same way he filled the goblets and gave drink to each. The lower servants, among whom there were Moors, lie on a blanket on the ground at one side of the fire, patiently awaiting their turn. They, too, receive their due share. I think that these are slaves.
O, how touching is the good temper and childlike simplicity of these beloved kings! They give to those who come to them a share of all they have; they even hold the golden vessels to their lips and let them drink out of them, like children.
6. ABOUT THE HOMELANDS AND LENGTHS OF THE JOURNEYS OF THE THREE HOLY KINGS.
Today I learnt much about the holy kings,
including the names of their countries and cities, but in my helpless and agitated condition I have quite forgotten everything.
I will tell what I know. Mensor, the brown-skinned one, was a Chaldean; his city had a name like Acajaja
In 1839, eighteen years after this word Acajaja was pronounced by Catherine Emmerich, the writer found in Funke’s dictionary:
“Achajacula, a castle on an island in the Euphrates in Mesopotamia (Ammian, 24, 2)” (CB)
The reference is to the history by Ammianus Marcellinus covering the twenty-six years from Constantius to Valens, entitled Res Gestae, in thirty-one books of which eighteen are extant. The twenty-fourth book deals with the campaigns of the Emperor Julian (A.D. 363), and in XXIV, ii, 2, the place Achaiachala, an island fortress in the river Euphrates, is mentioned. (SB) and was surrounded by a river, like an island. Mensor spent all his time in the fields with his herds. Seir, the dark-skinned one, was on Christmas night all ready to start on his journey from home. The name of his country is connected in my memory with the sound ‘Partherme.’ 121121 The name Partherme is otherwise unknown. It occurs again (of the same land), infra, p. 173 . (SB) Beyond his country, and higher up, was a lake or sea. It was only he and his tribe who were so brown, with red lips; the people round were white. His country was quite small, no bigger than the province of Münster.
Theokeno, the pale one, came from a country still higher up, called Media, lying between two seas. 122122 It would seem that Mensor, the Chaldean, was from Mesopotamia, Theokeno from Media (Persia), and Seir from the mountain country between Mesopotamia and Persia. But the geographical information is not precise enough to determine anything. (SB) I have forgotten the name of the city in which he lived; it was an assemblage of tents erected on foundations of stones. Theokeno, the richest of the three, was the one who left most behind him. I believe that he could have taken a more direct way to Bethlehem, and had to make a detour in order to travel in company with the others. I almost think that he had to go by Babylon to join them.
Seir, the dark-skinned one, lived three days’ journey from the home of Mensor, the brown one, and Theokeno five days’ journey. Each day’s journey was reckoned as lasting twelve hours. Mensor and Seir were together in the former’s camp when they saw the vision of the star of Jesus’ Birth, and started off the next day with their followers.
Theokeno, the pale one, saw the same vision in his home, and hurried after them in great haste, catching up with the other two in the deserted city. I did know the length of their journey to Bethlehem, but have partly forgotten it. What I remember, more or less, is that their journey was about 700 hours and still another figure with six in it. They had about sixty days’ journey, each reckoned at twelve hours, but they performed it in thirty-three days owing to the great speed of their beasts and to their often traveling day and night.
The star which led them was really like a round ball with light streaming out of it as from a mouth. It always seemed to me as if this ball, which was as it were swinging on a shaft of light, was guided by the hand of a supernatural being. In the daytime I saw a light brighter than daylight going before them. If one considers the distance they had to travel, the speed of their journey seems astonishing, but the pace of their beasts was so light and even that I see them moving onward with the order, rapidity, and rhythm of a flight of migrating birds. The homes of the three kings were at the three points of a triangle. Mensor, the brown one, and Seir, the dark, lived nearer to each other than Theokeno, the pale one, who was the farthest away of the three. They have, I think, already passed Chaldar where I once saw the enclosed garden in the temple. Theokeno’s distant city has only its foundations of stone; above, it
is all tents. There is water round it. It seems to me about the size of Münster.
After the kings had rested here until the evening, the people who had attached themselves to their company helped them to pack their baggage onto their beasts, and then carried home with them everything that was left behind. It was towards evening when they started off. The star was visible and was today reddish in color, like the moon in windy weather. Its long tail of light was pale. They went on foot for a while beside their beasts with uncovered heads, praying. On this part of the way it was impossible to go fast. Later on, when they came to level ground, they mounted their beasts, which moved at a very quick pace. Sometimes they went more slowly, and then they all sang as they journeyed through the night; it was very moving to hear.
7. NIGHT TRAVEL OF THE KINGS.
[November 29 th to December 2 nd:] I was again with the kings on their journey in the night of Thursday, November 29 th, and during the following day. I cannot say enough how much I admired the order, nobility, and joyfulness which inspires all that they do. We are journeying through the night, always following the star, whose long tail reaches down to earth. These good men follow it with their eyes quietly and joyfully, talking to each other from their high saddles. Sometimes they sing short sentences by turns, in a very slow and beautiful melody, sometimes very high and sometimes deep in tone. It is very moving to hear it in the quiet night, and I feel all that they sing. They travel with perfect orderliness; first comes a big camel with boxes on each side of his hump covered with large carpets on which sits the leader with a goad in his hand and a sack at his side. Then follow smaller beasts, such as horses or big donkeys, carrying packages and ridden by the men belonging to this leader. Then comes another of the leaders on a camel and so on. The creatures walk so delicately with big steps, and put down their feet as if they were trying not to crush anything.
They carry their burdens with so little motion that it seems as though only their legs were alive, and the carriage of their heads on their long necks is wonderfully calm and quiet. The men, too, seem to do everything without having to take thought about it. Everything happens as in a quiet dream, peaceful and sweet. (I cannot help reflecting here how these good people, who as yet do not know the Lord, journey towards Him in such order, peace, and sweetness, while we, whom He has redeemed and loaded with graces, are so disorderly and disrespectful in our processions!) I think the region through which they passed tonight might well be the district between Atom, the home of Azarias, and the castle of the idolater, where I saw Jesus at the end of the third year of His ministry when He was journeying through Arabia on His way to Egypt.
On Friday, November 30 th, I saw the procession halting at night by a fountain in the fields. A man from a hut, of which there were several near by, opened the fountain for them. They watered their beasts and rested for a short time without unloading. On Saturday, December 1 st, I saw the kings, whose road had been going uphill the day before, on higher ground. On their right was a mountain range, and when their road descended again, they seemed to be in a place where houses, trees, and fountains often stood beside the road. It seemed to me to be the home of the people whom I had seen, last year and again lately, spinning and weaving cotton. They had stretched the threads between the trees and plaited broad coverings out of them. They worshipped images of oxen. They were generous in giving food to the rabble that followed the procession of the kings, but it surprised me to see that they never used the bowls again from which these had eaten.
On Sunday, December 2 nd, I saw the three holy kings near a place whose name I remember as something like Causur, a city of tents on stone foundations. 123123 Perhaps ‘Geshur in Syria’, Absalom’s retreat in 2 Kings ( Sam.) 15.8. Fahsel notes Geshur, a Roman garrison town on the road from Damascus to Galilee, just south of Mount Hermon. (SB) They were given hospitality here by another king, to whom this city belonged. His tent-dwelling stood a little distance before it. Since their meeting in the deserted city, they had now traveled fifty-three or sixty-three hours. They told the king of Causur all that they had seen in the stars. He was very astonished, and looked through a tube at the star that was guiding them and saw in it a little child with a cross. He begged them to tell him everything on their return, when he would erect altars to the King and make sacrifices to Him. I am curious to see if he will keep his word when they return. I heard them recounting to him the origin of their star-watching, and remember of their conversation what follows.
8. THE ANCESTORS OF THE KINGS. THEIR STAR OBSERVATIONS – JACOB’S LADDER AND ITS PROPHESIES.
The ancestors of the kings descended from Job, who once lived in the Caucasus and possessed other far-off lands 124124 The Bible tells us nothing whatever about the historical setting of the Book of Job, except that Job lived ‘in the land of Hus (or Uz)’—a place otherwise unknown. But see further in n. 173, p. 154 . (SB) About 1,500 years before the birth of Christ only one tribe of them remained there. The prophet Balaam came from that region, 125125 That Balaam should come from a northern land is no surprise in view of Num. 22.5 in the Hebrew text, where we read that the king of Moab “sent messengers to Balaam, son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river of his people’s land”, and this Pethor is usually identified with Pitru of the Assyrian inscriptions, a city on the Euphrates (cf. Cath. Comm., 206d). (The Vulgate reads ‘soothsayer’ for Pethor, and ‘Ammon’ for ‘his people’.) Balaam’s remote and pagan origin makes him a character of particular interest in the history of Israel. (SB) and one of his disciples spread abroad and expounded in that land his master’s prophecy, ‘A star shall rise out of Jacob [see Numbers 24.17]. He had many followers, and they built a high tower upon a mountain, where many wise men and those learned in the stars lived by turns. I have seen that tower; it was like a mountain itself, broad at the base and pointed at the top. I saw, too, the openings in it where they lived. All that they discovered in the stars was noted and handed down by word of mouth. There were times when this observation of the stars fell into disuse owing to various happenings, and later it degenerated into the idolatrous horror of sacrificing children in order to hasten the coming of the promised Child.
About 500 years before the birth of Christ the observation of the stars had lapsed. At this time the race consisted of three tribes, founded by three brothers who lived with their families apart from each other. They had three daughters to whom God had given the spirit of prophecy and who wandered about the land in long cloaks prophesying, and teaching about the star and the Child that was to come out of Jacob. In this way the observation of the stars and the longing for the Child was again revived in these three tribes. The three holy kings were descended from these three brothers in a direct line of fifteen generations, covering some 500 years. Their complexions had, however, become different from each other as the result of intermarriage with other races.
For 500 years the ancestors of the kings had met at a building which they shared in common for the observation of the stars. According to what they saw, various alterations were made in their temple and its services. Unfortunately, for a long time they continued to sacrifice children and other human beings. As they watched the stars, they were shown in wonderful visions all the special events and times connected with the coming of the Messiah. I saw many of these visions as they conversed, but can no longer describe them clearly. Since Mary’s conception, fifteen years before, these visions had pointed ever more distinctly to the nearness of the Child. At last they had seen several indications of the Passion of Jesus.
They were able to calculate very exactly the coming of the star prophesied by Balaam, for they had seen Jacob’s Ladder and were able to reckon precisely, as in a calendar, the approach of our salvation by the number of rungs in the ladder and by the pictures appearing on each. The end of the ladder led to the star, which was the uppermost picture on it. They saw Jacob’s Ladder as a tree in the midst of which three rows of rungs were fastened, and on these appeared a series of pictures which they saw in the star as each was fulfilled, so they knew exactly which must be the next picture, and the intervals between the pictures told them how long they must wait for it. At the time of Mary’s conception they had seen the Virgin holding a scepter and an evenly balanced scales with wheat and grapes. [Please refer to Figure 19.] A little below her they saw the Virgin with the Child. They saw Bethlehem as a beautiful palace, a house where much blessing was stored and distributed. In it they saw the Virgin and Child surrounded by a great glory of light, and many kings bowing before Him and making offerings to Him. They also saw the heavenly Jerusalem, but between it and Bethlehem was a dark street, full of thorns, strife, and blood.
All this was real to them. They thought that glory such as this surrounded the newborn King, and that all peoples were bowing before Him; that was why they came, bringing their gifts with them. They took the heavenly Jerusalem to be His earthly kingdom and thought they would come to it. The dark street they thought meant their own journey, or that some war was threatening the King; they did not know that it meant His Via Dolorosa. At the foot of the ladder they saw (as did I) an elaborate tower, like the one I saw on the mountain of the Prophet. They saw how the Virgin once took refuge in a storm under a projecting portion of this tower, which had many entrances. I cannot remember what this signified. (Perhaps the Flight into Egypt.) There was a whole series of pictures on this Jacob’s Ladder, amongst others many prophetic symbols of the Blessed Virgin, such as the sealed fountain and the enclosed garden. There were also pictures of kings, some holding out scepters, and others, branches to each other.
All these pictures they saw appearing in their turn in the stars as they were fulfilled. In the last three nights they saw these pictures continuously. The chief one of the three sent messengers to the others, and when they saw the picture of the kings making offerings to the newborn Child, they hurried on their way with their rich gifts, not wishing to be the last to arrive. All the tribes of the star-gazers had seen the star, but these were the only ones who followed it. The star which went before them was not the comet, but a shining brilliance borne by an angel. By day they followed the angel.
Figure 19. Vision of the three kings at the time of Mary’s conception.
Because of all this they were full of expectation as they journeyed, and were afterwards astonished to find nothing like it. They were dismayed by Herod’s reception of them and by the ignorance of all men about these things. When they came to Bethlehem and saw a desolate cellar instead of the glorious palace they had seen in the star, great doubt assailed them; but they remained true to their faith, and at the sight of Jesus they realized that all they had seen in the stars was fulfilled.
These observations of the stars were accompanied by fasting, prayer, religious ceremonies, and various forms of self-denial and purification. The visions did not come from looking at one single star, but from a grouping of certain separate stars. This star-worship exercised an evil influence on those who had a tendency towards evil. Such people were seized with violent convulsions in their star-gazing, and it was they who were responsible for the misguided sacrifices of children. Others, like the three holy kings, saw the pictures clearly and calmly, in a spirit of inner piety, and grew ever better and more devout.
9. THE KINGS TRAIN IS AUGMENTED WITH OTHER TRAVELERS.
[December 3 rd to 5 th:] When the kings left Causur, I saw that they were joined by a considerable number of distinguished travelers who were going the same way. On December 3 rd and 4 th I saw them crossing a wide plain. On the 5 th they rested by a fountain but without unloading. They watered and fed their beasts and prepared food for themselves.
[In the last few days Catherine Emmerich while asleep in the evening often sang several short verses with very strange and moving melodies. When she was asked the reason for this, she said:] I am singing with my dear kings, they sing with great sweetness many short verses, such as:
Over the hills let us make our way Our homage to the new King to pay.
They take it in turn to invent and sing these verses: one begins, and the others repeat the verse he has sung. Then another starts another verse, and so as they ride along they keep up their sweet and heartfelt singing.
In the heart of the star, or rather of the globe of light, which went before them to show them the way, I saw the appearance of a Child with a Cross. When they saw the appearance of the Virgin in the stars at the birth of Jesus, this globe of light appeared in front of the picture and suddenly began to move gently forward.
10. THE BLESSED VIRGIN FORESEES THE APPROACH OF THE THREE HOLY KINGS.
[December 5 th:] Mary had had a vision of the approach of the three holy kings while they were resting in the tent of the king of Causur. She also saw that the latter intended to erect an altar in honor of her Child. She told this to St. Joseph and Elizabeth, and asked that they should clear out the Cave of the Nativity and make everything ready in time for the reception of the kings.
The people because of whom Mary had yesterday retreated into the other cave were visitors who had come out of curiosity. There were many such in the last few days. Today Elizabeth went home to Juttah with a servant who came to fetch her.
[December 6 th to 8 th:] These were quieter days in the Cave of the Nativity, and the Holy Family was generally alone. Only Mary’s maidservant, a robust, serious, and unpretentious person of some thirty years, was there. She was a childless widow, related to Anna, who had given her a home. Her late husband had been very severe with her because she went so often to the Essenes, for she was very devout and was hoping for the salvation of Israel. So he was angry with her, just as today bad men are angry because their wives go to church too often. He left her and afterwards died.
In the last few days there came no more of those insistent beggars who had demanded alms at the cave with curses and abuse. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Maccabees’ Feast of the Consecration of the Temple. 126126 Maccabean Dedication Feast; cf. supra , n. 53, p. 37 . (SB) This feast really begins on the 25 th day of the month Kislev, but as this fell on the evening of Friday, December 7 th, in the year of Jesus’ birth, that is to say, on the eve of the Sabbath, it was postponed to the evening of Saturday, December 8 th, or the 26 th day of Kislev. It lasted eight days.
(Thus the sixth day after the Circumcision was the 25 th day of Kislev, so that the Circumcision happened on the nineteenth day of Kislev, and Jesus’ birth on the twelfth day of Kislev.)
Joseph kept the Sabbath under the lamp in the Cave of the Nativity with Mary and the maidservant. On Saturday evening the Feast of the Consecration of the Temple began. Joseph had fastened lamp-brackets, in three places in the cave, on each of which he lit seven little lamps. All is quiet now; the many visitors came because they were on their way to the festival. The nurse came to Mary every day now. Anna often sends messengers with presents who take news back to her. Jewish women do not suckle their children for long without other nourishment, and even when He was only a few days old the Infant Jesus was given a pap made of the pith of some rush which is light, nourishing, and sweet to taste. In the day-time the donkey is generally outside at pasture and only spends the night in the cave.
11. JOSEPH CELEBRATES THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF THE TEMPLE.
[December 10 th:] Yesterday, Sunday, December 9 th, I did not see the nurse coming to the cave any more. Joseph lights his little lamps for the Consecration feast every morning and evening. It is very quiet here since the feast began in Jerusalem.
Today a manservant came from Anna. He brought the Blessed Virgin, amongst other things, materials for making a girdle, and a most beautiful little basket of fruit, covered over with fresh roses among the fruit. The basket was high and narrow, and the color of the roses different from ours: it was paler, almost flesh-colored. There were also big yellow and white roses, some open, and some in bud. Mary seemed delighted with them and placed the basket beside her.
[Journey of the kings:] In the last few days I often saw the kings on their journey. The road was more hilly, and they came over the hills which I had seen covered with little pieces of stone like broken pottery. I should very much like to have some of them; they are so beautifully smooth. On other mountains in that region are many white transparent stones like birds’ eggs, and a quantity of white sand. I saw the kings now in the place where they afterwards lived when Jesus visited them in the third year of His ministry. They were not in the city of tents, for at that time it did not exist.
12. JOSEPH WANTS TO SETTLE DOWN IN BETHLEHEM.
[December 11 th to 13 th:] It seems to me as if Joseph would like to stay in Bethlehem and live there with Mary after the Purification. I think he was looking out for a house there. About three days ago some rather distinguished people came to the cave from Bethlehem; they wanted to take the Holy Family into their house. Mary hid herself from them in the other cave, and Joseph declined their offer. Anna is soon going to visit the Blessed Virgin. I saw her very busy lately, dividing up her herds again for the poor and for the Temple. The Holy Family, too, always gave away at once whatever they had. The Consecration festival was still celebrated every morning and evening, but on the 13 th a new festival must have started. I saw various alterations being made in the festival in Jerusalem. I saw the windows in many houses being closed and curtained. I also saw a priest with a scroll in the cave with Joseph. They were praying together at a little table hung with white and red. It was as if he had wanted to see whether Joseph was keeping the feast, or as if he was announcing a new feast to him. [It seemed to her to be a feast day, but she also thought that the feast of the new moon must now have begun. She was uncertain about this.] The Crib was quiet in these last few days, without visitors.
13. END OF THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF THE TEMPLE.
[December 14 th to 18 th: With the Sabbath the Feast of the Consecration of the Temple came to an end, and Joseph ceased lighting the little lamps. On Sunday the 16 th and Monday the 17 th people from the neighborhood once more came to the Crib. The unruly beggars, too, were heard at the entrance. This was because people were now returning from the festival.
On the 17 th two servants came from Anna with food and other things. Mary is much quicker than I am in distributing things, and everything was soon given away. I see Joseph beginning to tidy and clear up in the Cave of the Nativity, the side-caves, and grave of Maraha, and he has brought in provisions. They are awaiting Anna’s visit, and Mary is expecting the kings to arrive soon.
[December 17 th:] Today, late in the evening, I saw the kings arrive in a little town of scattered houses, many of which were surrounded by high fences. It seemed to me that this was the first Jewish town they came to. Bethlehem was in a straight line from here, but they went off to the right, I suppose because the only road led in that direction. 127127 Medeba is about eighteen miles north of the brook Arnon, which flows into the Dead Sea, and Bethlehem lies due west from here across the Dead Sea, so that travelers would have to turn north to go round it. (SB) As they approached this place they sang particularly loudly and beautifully, and were full of joy, for the star shone unusually brightly here. It was like moonlight and one could see quite clearly the shadows which it cast. The inhabitants seemed either not to see the star or to take no special interest in it, but they were good people and extremely helpful. Some of the travelers had dismounted, and the inhabitants helped them to water their beasts. (It made me think of Abraham’s times, when all men were so good and helpful.) Several of the inhabitants, bearing branches, led the travelers through the town and went some of the way with them. I did not see the star always shining brightly before them; sometimes it was quite dim. It seemed to shine more brightly in places where good people lived, and when the travelers saw that it was very brilliant, they were greatly excited and thought that perhaps the Messiah might be in that place.
[December 18 th:] This morning they passed by a dark, misty city without stopping, and soon after crossed a river flowing into the Dead Sea. In the last two places many of the rabble which had followed them stayed behind. (I had a distinct impression that someone had taken refuge in one of these two places in a conflict before the reign of Solomon. 128128 Medeba was the scene of David’s battle with the Ammonites ( 1 Chr. 19.7), and also (but after Solomon’s time) one of the cities captured during the revolt of Mesha, King of Moab (IV Kings 3.4 sqq., Isa. 15.2). as recorded on the Moabite Stone. (SB) ) They crossed the river this morning and now came on to a good road.
14. THE TRAIN OF THE KINGS. ARRIVAL IN MANATHEA.
th to 21
st:] This evening I saw the kings on this side of this river.
Since the Arnon flows east to west, we should understand ‘northern side’ here. (SB)
Their generosity had attracted so many followers that their train must have numbered 200. They were nearing the town which
was approached by Jesus on its western side on July 31
st in the second year of His ministry, though He did not enter it. Its name sounded like Manathea, Metanea, Medana, or Madian.
St. Jerome mentions a Methane near Arnon, which gave its name to the Mathanites. See
1 Chr. 11.43. (CB)
Nothing else is recorded in the Bible about the Mathanites. Fahsel marks a village Madian on the north bank of the Arnon. (SB) It had a mixed population of heathens and Jews; they were evil people, and though a high road led through the town, they would not let the kings go through. They led them outside the town, on the eastern side, to a place enclosed by walls, where there were sheds and stables. The kings put up their tents here, fed and watered their beasts, and prepared a meal for themselves.
On Thursday the 20 th and Friday the 21 st I saw the kings resting here, but they were greatly distressed because here, as in the last town, nobody knew or cared about the newborn King. I heard them telling the inhabitants in a very friendly way a great deal about the cause of their long journey and all the circumstances attending it. Of what I heard I recollect this much.
They had received the announcement about the newborn King a very long time ago. I think it must have been not long after Job’s time and before Abraham went to Egypt, when an army of some three thousand Medes from Job’s country (they lived in other parts as well) came as far as the region of Heliopolis in a campaign against Egypt. 131131 According to AC (infra, p. 120 ) this took place about 1500 B.C., when ‘Medes (?) from Job’s country’ (the Caucasus according to AC) invaded Egypt. Is this to be identified with the Hittite invasions in the Amarna period (14th cent. B.C.)? (SB) I cannot now clearly recollect why they had advanced so far, but I think their campaign was in aid of someone. It was not, however, for a good purpose, they were attacking something holy; whether holy men or a religious mystery connected with the fulfillment of the promise, I cannot remember. Near Heliopolis an angel appeared to several of their leaders at once, warning them to go no farther. He spoke to them of a Redeemer who was to be born of a Virgin and would be worshipped by their descendants. This was connected, I cannot remember how, with a command that they should advance no farther but should go home and observe the stars. After this I saw them arranging joyful feasts in Egypt, setting up triumphal arches and altars, and decorating them with flowers. Then they went home. They were Median star-worshippers, exceptionally tall, almost like giants, of very noble stature and of a beautiful yellowish-brown color. They journeyed with their herds from place to place and imposed their will everywhere by their great strength. I have forgotten the name of their chief prophet. They were much given to prophesying and the taking of omens from animals. Often on their journeys animals would suddenly place themselves across their road, standing with outstretched legs and letting themselves be killed rather than go away. That was an omen for them, and they turned away from these roads. The kings said that these Medes, returning from Egypt, were the first to bring the prophecy and to start the watching of the stars. When they passed away, it was continued by a disciple of Balaam and renewed 1,000 years after him by the three prophetess-daughters of the three kings who founded their dynasties. Now, 500 years after them, the star had come which they were following in order to adore the newborn King. All this they explained to the inquisitive listeners with the most child-like sincerity, and were distressed that they did not seem at all to believe in what their ancestors had so patiently waited for during 2,000 years. In the evening the star was covered in mist, but when it appeared again at night large and clear between moving clouds, they rose from their camp and awoke the inhabitants living near to show them the star. These gazed in wonder at the sky, and some showed emotion; but many of them were vexed with the kings, and in general they merely sought to take advantage of their generosity.
I heard the kings saying what a long way they had traveled from their first meeting-place to here. They reckoned by day’s journeys on foot, each of twelve hours. But their beasts, which were dromedaries and were faster than horses, enabled them to do thirty-six hours’ journey each twenty-four hours, including the rest-hours. Thus the most distant of the three kings was able to accomplish his sixty hours’ journey to the meeting-place in two days, and the two who were nearer did their thirty-six hours’ journey in a day and a night. From the meeting-place to where they were now they had traveled 672 hours’ journey, and had spent about twenty-five days and nights since starting off at the moment of the Birth of Christ.
[December 20 th and 21 st:] The kings and their train rested here both these days, and I heard what they told. On the evening of Friday the 21 st the Jews who lived here began their Sabbath and crossed a bridge leading westwards across the water to a small Jewish village with a synagogue. At the same time the kings prepared for their departure and made their farewells. I noticed that the inhabitants looked at the star (when visible) which led the kings and expressed much astonishment, but it did not make them more respectful. They were shamelessly importunate, pestering the kings like swarms of wasps. In reply to their demands the kings with great forbearance gave them little triangular pieces of their gold and also grains of some darker metal. They must have been very rich.
They were escorted by the inhabitants when they left. Skirting the wails of the town (in which I saw temples surmounted by idols), they crossed the river by a bridge, and passed through the Jewish village, hurrying on towards the Jordan by a good road. From here they still had about twenty-four hours’ journey to Jerusalem.
15. ST. ANNE JOURNEYS TO BETHLEHEM.
[December 19 th to 22 nd:] On the evening of December 19 th, I saw Anna, accompanied by her second husband, Mary Heli, a maid, and a manservant with two donkeys, stopping for the night not far from Bethany on their way to Bethlehem.
Joseph has finished the arrangements which he has been making in the Cave of the Nativity and in the side-caves in order to receive both the guests from Nazareth and the kings, whose arrival Mary had foreseen a short while ago when they were at Causur. Joseph and Mary had moved with the Infant Jesus into the other cave. The Cave of the Nativity had been entirely cleared out, and only the donkey, I saw, had been left in it. Even the fireplace and the things for preparing food had been moved out. Joseph had, if I remember rightly, already paid his second tax. There were again many inquisitive visitors coming to Mary from Bethlehem to see the Child. Some He allowed to take Him in their arms, from others He turned away crying. I saw the Blessed Virgin calm and peaceful in the new dwelling, which had now been arranged very comfortably. Her couch was against the wall. The Infant Jesus lay beside her in a long basket woven from broad strips of bark; it had a shelter for the head and stood on trestles. The Blessed Virgin’s couch with Jesus’ cradle was separated from the rest of the room by a wicker screen. In the daytime, except when she wished to be alone, she sat in front of this screen with the Child beside her. Joseph’s resting-place was some way off at the side of the cave, and was divided off in the same way. A vessel holding a lamp stood on a piece of wood projecting from the wall high enough to light both these screened-off partitions. I saw Joseph bringing the Blessed Virgin a bowl of food and a jug of water.
[December 20 th:] This evening was the beginning of a fast. All the food for the next day was prepared beforehand, the fire was covered over, the openings of the cave hung with curtains, and all the household utensils put away. (The 8 th and 16 th days of the month Shebat are Jewish fast days.) Anna has come to the cave with her second husband, Mary’s elder sister, and a maidservant. I had seen Anna on her journey several days before. These visitors were to sleep in the Cave of the Nativity; this was why the Holy Family had moved into the side-cave, though the donkey had remained behind. Today I saw Mary lay the Infant in her mother’s arms; Anna was greatly moved. She had brought with her coverlets, clothes, and provisions. Anna’s maidservant was strangely dressed. [Please refer to Figure 20.] Her hair was plaited and hung down to her girdle in a net; she had on a short dress reaching only to the knees. Her pointed bodice was fastened tightly round her hips and breast; it came high up above the latter as if to make a place for hiding something. She carried a basket hanging on her arm. The old man (Anna’s husband) was very shy and humble. Anna slept where Elizabeth had slept, and Mary told her everything, as she had Elizabeth, in happy intimacy. Anna wept with the Blessed Virgin; they often interrupted their talk to caress the Infant Jesus.
[December 21 st:] Today I saw the Blessed Virgin once more in the Cave of the Nativity and little Jesus once more in the crib. When Joseph and Mary are alone with the little Child, I often see them adoring Him; and now I see Anna and the Blessed Virgin standing by the Crib with bowed heads, and gazing at the Infant Jesus with great devotion. I am not quite sure whether Anna’s companions slept in the other cave or whether they had gone away. I almost think they had gone. Today I saw that Anna had brought the Mother and Child various things such as coverlets and swaddling-bands. Since she came here, Mary has been given a good many things; but she has very little of anything, because she at once gives away anything that is not absolutely necessary. I heard her telling Anna that the kings out of the East would soon be coming, bringing great gifts, and that this would cause a great sensation. I think that while the kings are on their way here, Anna will go to her sister, three hours’ distance from here, and come back later.
[December 22 nd:] This evening, after the Sabbath had ended, I saw Anna and her companions going away from the Blessed Virgin for a little time. She went three hours’ journey away from here, to the Tribe of Benjamin, to a younger married sister who lived there. I do not remember the name of the village, which consisted only of a few houses and a field. It is half an hour away from the last resting-place of the Holy Family on their journey to Bethlehem, where Joseph’s relations lived. They spent the night of November 22 nd/23 rd there.
Figure 20. Saint Anne's maid.
16. THE TRAIN OF THE KINGS CROSSES THE JORDON.
The kings and their train left Mathanea and hurried through the night, following a high-road. They passed through no more towns, but skirted all the little places in which, at the end of July in the third year of His ministry, Jesus blessed the children and healed and taught; for example, Bethabara, 132132 Bethabara (thus named by AC) (=‘ place of crossing’) by the lord an is mentioned in some codices of John 1.28 (‘where John was baptizing’), while other codices have Bethania (= ‘place of the ship’)—probably two names for the same place. (SB) the place of the ferry across the Jordan, which they reached early in the morning. As it was the Sabbath, they met few people on their way.
Early in the morning, at seven o’clock, I saw them crossing the Jordan. Generally people were ferried across the river on a raft of beams, but for large companies a sort of bridge was put together. This was generally done by the ferrymen who lived on the bank and received payment for it, but as these could not work on the Sabbath the travelers did it themselves, with the help of some of the ferrymen’s heathen servants, who were paid for it. The Jordan was not broad here and was full of sand-banks. Planks were placed against the raft generally used for crossing, and the camels were led up them onto the raft. I saw that this sort of bridge was ferried backwards and forwards till all the train were landed on the western bank. It was quite a long time before all were safely across.
[In the evening at half-past five, she said:] They have left Jericho on their right and are now in a direct line with Bethlehem, but are turning more to the right in the direction of Jerusalem. There must be as many as a hundred men with them. In the distance I see a little town, which I know, beside a stream coming from Jerusalem in an eastward direction. I am sure they will have to pass through this town. They go on for some time with the stream on their left hand. I saw Jerusalem as they went; it sank out of sight and reappeared as the road rose or fell. [Later she said:] They did not pass through that town after all; they turned to the right towards Jerusalem.
Today [Saturday evening, December 22 nd] I saw the three holy kings and their train arriving before Jerusalem. I saw the city towering up to heaven. The guiding star had here almost disappeared; it had become quite small and glowed only dimly behind the city. The travelers became more and more depressed the nearer they came to Jerusalem, for the star was not nearly so bright before them, and in Judea they saw it but seldom. They had expected, too, to find everywhere great rejoicings and festivities at the newborn Savior, for whose sake they had made so long a journey. When, however, they found nowhere the smallest trace of excitement about Him, they were distressed and full of doubts, thinking that they had perhaps gone completely astray.
Their train numbered, I am sure, more than 200 men, and took a quarter of an hour to pass by. A distinguished company had joined them as far back as Causur, and since then others had been added. The three kings rode on dromedaries (camels with two humps), with baggage all round them, and there were three other loaded dromedaries with their riders. Each king was accompanied by four men of his tribe; among them I noticed two young men (one of them was Azarias of Atom), whom I saw later as fathers of families when Jesus visited Arabia. The rest of the company rode mostly on very swift yellowish animals with delicate heads; I am not sure whether these were horses or donkeys. They looked quite different from our horses. The ones ridden by the more distinguished persons had richly ornamented saddles and bridles, and were hung with little gold chains and stars. Some of the company went up to the gate of the city and came back accompanied by guards and soldiers. Their arrival by this road with so large a train caused great surprise, as there was no festival and they were bringing no merchandise with them. When questioned, they explained why they had come, speaking of the star and the newborn child, but not a soul there understood what they were talking about. This depressed them extremely; they thought that they must certainly have made a mistake, for they could find nobody here who seemed to know anything about the Savior of the World. Everyone gazed at them in astonishment, and could not understand what they wanted. However, the gate-keepers went back into the city to report when they saw the generous alms given so kindly to the importunate beggars, and heard not only that the kings sought a lodging and would pay liberally, but also that they asked to speak with King Herod. Then followed an exchange of reports, messages, inquiries, and explanations between the kings and the authorities. While this was going on, the kings talked with the various people who had collected round them. Some of them had heard a rumor of a child said to have been born at Bethlehem, but it could not, they said, be He, for His parents were common people and poor. Others only laughed at them; and as they gathered, from what little the people said, that Herod knew nothing of a newborn child, and that, in general, they had no very high opinion of Herod, they became even more dejected, for they were troubled in their minds as to how to deal with the matter when speaking to Herod. However, calming themselves, they fell to praying and took courage again, saying to each other: ‘He who has led us here so quickly by the star will bring us happily home again.
When the gate-keepers at last came back, the kings and their train were taken round the outside of the city walls for some way and brought into it through a gate near Mount Calvary. They and their baggage-animals were taken to a circular enclosure not far from the fish market. It was surrounded by houses and stables, and there were guards at the entrances. The animals were taken into the stables, while the kings established themselves in sheds near a fountain in the center of the court. The baggage-animals were watered at this fountain. One side of this circular court was on the slope of a hill; the two other sides were open, with trees in front.
Officials now came two by two with torches and examined what the kings had in their baggage. I suppose they were customs officers.
17. THEOKENO IS SUMMONED TO HEROD’S PALACE.
Herod’s palace was on higher ground, not far from here, and I saw the way there illuminated with torches and braziers on poles. Herod sent a servant down and caused the oldest of the kings, Theokeno, to be brought to his palace in secret. It was after ten o’clock at night. He was received in a lower room by one of Herod’s courtiers and questioned as to the object of his journey. He related everything in the most childlike manner, and begged him to ask Herod where to find the newborn King of the Jews whose star they had seen and followed in order to worship Him. When the courtier reported this to Herod, he was much startled, but he dissembled and sent in reply a message saying that he would cause inquiries to be made, but that in the meantime the kings were to rest: early next morning he would speak with them all himself and tell them what he had discovered. Theokeno was thus unable to give his companions any special encouragement when he returned to them, and they made no preparations for resting, but on the contrary ordered the repacking of much that had been unpacked. I did not see them sleeping that night at all; they were wandering about separately in the city with guides, looking at the sky as if they were seeking for their star. In Jerusalem itself all was quiet, but there was much talk and coming and going at the guard-house before the court. The kings were of the opinion that Herod probably knew everything but wished to keep it secret from them.
Herod was giving a feast when Theokeno was in the palace; the rooms were illuminated and full of guests, among them brazen-faced women in fine dresses. Theokeno’s questions about a newborn King disturbed Herod greatly, and he at once summoned all the high priests and scribes. I saw them coming to him with their scrolls before midnight, wearing their priestly vestments and breast-plates and their girdles with letters. I saw as many as twenty of them about him. He asked them where Christ was to be born. I saw them unrolling their scrolls before him and answering, pointing with their fingers: ‘In Bethlehem of Judah, for so it is written by the prophet Micah: “And you Bethlehem in the land of Judah are not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of you shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.”’ Then I saw Herod walking about on the roof of the palace with some of them and looking in vain for the star of which Theokeno had spoken. He was in a strange state of unrest, but the learned priests made every effort to persuade him not to pay any attention to what the kings had said. These romantic people, they said, were always full of fantastic ideas about their stars; if such a thing had really happened, Herod and they themselves, in the Temple in the Holy City, would of course be the first to know of it.
18. THE THREE HOLY KINGS APPEAR BEFORE HEROD.
[Sunday, December 23 rd:] Very early this morning Herod secretly summoned the three kings to his palace. 133133 That the second visit of the Magi to Herod was in private is recorded in Matt. 2.7. (SB) They were received under an archway and taken into a room, where I saw green branches and bushes arranged in vases to welcome them, with some refreshments. They remained standing for a while until Herod came in, and then, after bowing before him, they again asked him about the newborn King of the Jews. Herod concealed his uneasiness as well as he could and even pretended to be overjoyed. He still had some of the scribes with him. He inquired of the kings as to what they had seen, and Mensor described to him the last picture they had seen in the stars before setting off on their journey. This, he said, was a Virgin with a Child before her: on the right-hand side of the picture a branch of light grew forth, bearing on it a tower with several gates. This tower had grown into a great city, over which the Child had appeared as a king with crown, sword, and scepter. They had then seen themselves and the kings of the whole world come and bow down before the Child in adoration, for His kingdom was to conquer all other kingdoms. Herod told them that a prophecy of this kind about Bethlehem Ephrata did indeed exist and asked them to go there at once very quietly, and when they had found and adored the Child, to come back and bring him word, that he, too, might go and adore Him. The kings, who had not touched any of the food set out for them by Herod, went back again. It was very early, for I saw the torches in front of the palace still alight. Herod spoke to them in secret because of all the talk in the city. The day then began to break, and they made all preparations for their departure. The stragglers who had followed them to Jerusalem had dispersed about the city the night before.
19. HEROD’S STATE OF MIND – A MURDER.
Herod was in a state of ill-humor and vexation in these days. At the time of Christ’s birth he had been in his palace near Jericho and had committed a vile murder. He had insinuated adherents of his into the higher posts of the Temple to find out what was going on there so as to warn him of anyone opposed to his designs. One of these in particular was a high official in the Temple, a good and upright man. He invited this man with friendly words to visit him at Jericho, but caused him to be waylaid and murdered in the desert on his way there, making it appear as the work of robbers. A few days later he came to Jerusalem in order to take part in the feast of the dedication of the Temple on the 25 th day of the month Kislev, and there he became involved in a very disagreeable affair. He wanted to do something in his own way which would please the Jews and do them honor. He had a golden image made of a lamb, or rather of a kid, for it had horns. This was to be set up for the festival over the gate leading from the outer court of the women into the Court of Sacrifice. He proposed to force this arrangement on the Jews and yet expected to be thanked for it. The priests opposed it, so he threatened them with fines, whereupon they declared that they would pay the fine, but that their law forbade them ever to accept the image. Herod, bitterly angered, tried to put up the image in secret; but when it was brought into the Temple, it was seized by a zealous official and flung to the ground, so that it broke in two. 134134 This is probably the same story as that recorded by Josephus (BJ., I, xxxiii, 2-4): Herod had put up a golden eagle over the main gate of the Temple. Some young Jews climbed up at noonday and smashed it with axes. About forty men were arrested. (SB) A tumult ensued, and Herod had the official imprisoned. This affair had so angered him that he regretted coming to the feast. His courtiers endeavored to distract him with all kinds of entertainments.
Now came the rumors of Christ’s birth to add to Herod’s uneasiness. Of late there had arisen among certain devout Jews a lively sense of the near approach of the Messiah. The events attending the birth of Jesus had been spread abroad by the shepherds, but all this was looked on by important people as nonsensical gossip. It had come to Herod’s ears, and he had secretly made inquiries at Bethlehem. His messengers came to the Crib three days after Christ’s birth [see above, p. 102 ], and after talking with St. Joseph, a poor man, they reported, as all arrogant people like them are wont to do, that there was nothing to be seen but a poor family in a miserable cave, and that the whole thing was not worth talking about. To begin with, they were too arrogant to talk properly to St. Joseph, all the more as they had been warned not to cause any sensation. Now, however, Herod was suddenly confronted by the three kings and their numerous company, and was filled with fear and dismay, for they came from a long way off and their story could not be dismissed as idle talk. When however they inquired so particularly about the newborn King, he feigned a desire to worship Him too, much to their joy. He was in no way reassured by the blind arrogance of the scribes, and was determined in his own interests that the event should remain as unnoticed as possible. He did not at once oppose the statements made to him by the kings, nor did he at once lay hands on Jesus, for by so doing he feared to give the impression to the people (who were already in a difficult frame of mind) that the kings’ announcement was true and of serious consequence to himself. He therefore planned to gain more accurate information from the kings before taking steps himself about it. When the kings, warned by God, failed to return to him, he announced that their flight was a proof that they had either been disappointed in their search or had been lying. He caused it to be spread abroad that they had been ashamed and afraid to come back, because they had so greatly deceived themselves and others; what other reason could there be for their secret flight, when they had been received by him in so friendly a manner? In this way he stopped all further rumors and merely let it be known in Bethlehem that no one should have anything to do with that family and that no attention should be paid to misleading rumors and imaginations. When the Holy Family returned to Nazareth a fortnight later, it put an end to the talk about an event which had never become clearly known to most people. The devout ones hoped in silence. When all was calm once more, Herod planned to do away with Jesus, but heard that the family with the Child had now left Nazareth. For a long time he caused search to be made for the Child, and when he was forced to give up hope of finding Him, his anxiety increased, and he had recourse to the desperate measure of the Massacre of the Innocents. He took stringent precautions and ordered a number of troop movements in order to prevent any insurrection. I think the children were murdered in seven different places.
20. THE HOLY THREE KINGS GO TO BETHLEHEM. THEY REST BY A SPRING.
I saw the kings and their train moving southwards out of the city gate. A crowd of people followed them as far as a brook outside the walls, and then, turned back. After crossing the stream, the kings made a short halt to look for their star. When they saw it they broke into cries of joy, and went on their journey, singing their sweet songs. The star did not lead them by the direct road to Bethlehem, but by a westerly detour. They passed by a little town I know well, and towards midday I saw them stop in a pleasant place near a little village behind the town. A spring of water burst forth before their eyes, at which they were overjoyed. They dismounted and hollowed out a basin round the spring, surrounding it with clean sand, stones, and turf. They stayed several hours here, watering and feeding their beasts, and refreshing themselves with food; for in Jerusalem they had been too disturbed and anxious to rest. In later years I saw Our Lord stopping sometimes by this spring with His disciples and teaching there.
The star, which at night shone like a ball of fire, now looked like the moon in daylight. It was not a perfect round, but had as it were a jagged edge; I often saw it hidden by clouds.
The direct road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem was full of travelers with donkeys and baggage, probably returning home from Bethlehem after the taxation, or going to the market or the Temple in Jerusalem. The way taken by the kings was very quiet, and no doubt God led them by it so that they should not cause too much sensation and should not arrive in Bethlehem before the evening. When the sun was already low, I saw them starting off again. They traveled in the same order as when they first met. Mensor, the brownish one and the youngest, went first; then came Seir, the dark-brown one; and then Theokeno, the white-skinned one and the eldest.
21. ARRIVAL OF THE THREE KINGS AT THE TAX-COLLECTION HOUSE IN BETHLEHEM.
Today, Sunday, December 23 rd, at dusk, I saw the three holy kings and their train arrive at the same building outside Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary had been registered. It was the former ancestral house of David of which some masonry still remained; once it had belonged to Joseph’s parents. It was a large house with several smaller ones round it; in front of it was a closed court, giving on to an open place with trees and a fountain. In this place I saw Roman soldiers; they were there because of the tax office which was in the building. When the kings and their train arrived, a crowd of inquisitive onlookers began pressing round them. The star had disappeared, and they were somewhat uneasy. Some men came up to them and questioned them. They dismounted, and were met by officials from the house bearing branches, who offered them a light refreshment of bread, fruit, and drink. This was a usual welcome for strangers like these. Meanwhile I saw their beasts being watered at the fountain under the trees. I thought to myself: these strangers are more courteously received than poor Joseph, because of the little gold pieces they distribute. They were told that the Shepherds’ Valley was a good camping-place, but remained for some time undecided. I did not hear them ask for the newborn King of the Jews; they knew that according to the prophecy this was the place, but because of what Herod had said to them they were afraid of causing any comment. When, however, they saw a light shining in the sky beside Bethlehem, as though the moon were rising, they mounted again and rode beside a ditch and some ruined walls round the south side of Bethlehem towards the east, approaching the Cave of the Nativity from the field where the angels had appeared to the shepherds. On entering the valley behind the cave, near the grave of Maraha, they dismounted, and their people unpacked much of the luggage and set up a great tent which they had with them. They made all arrangements for an encampment with the help of some shepherds, who had pointed out the places to them.
The camp had been partly arranged when the kings saw the star appear bright and clear above the hill where the Cave of the Nativity was, the light that streamed from it descending in a vertical line onto the hill. 135135 Cf. Matt. 2.9: The star ‘came and stood over where the child was.’ The star seemed to grow larger as it drew near until it became a body of light which looked to me as big as a sheet. I saw them at first gazing at it in great astonishment. It was already dark; they saw no house, only the outline of a hill, like a rampart. Suddenly they were filled with great joy, for they saw in the radiance the shining figure of a Child, like the one they had seen before in the star. All bared their heads in obeisance, and the three kings, going up to the hill, found the door of the cave. Mensor opened the door and saw the cave full of heavenly light, and, in the back of it, the Virgin sitting with the Child, just as they had seen them in their visions. He went back at once and told this to his companions; in the meantime Joseph, accompanied by an aged shepherd, came out of the cave to meet them. They told him, in childlike simplicity, how they had come to adore the newborn King of the Jews, whose star they had seen, and to bring Him gifts. Joseph welcomed them warmly, and the old shepherd accompanied them to their encampment and helped them with their arrangements; some of the shepherds who were there gave them the use of some sheds. They themselves prepared for the solemn ceremony that was before them. I saw them putting on big white cloaks with long trains. The material had a yellowish sheen, like raw silk, and was beautifully fine and light. They wore these fluttering robes for all their religious ceremonies. All three wore girdles on which many pouches and gold boxes (like sugar-basins with knobs) were suspended by little chains among the ample folds of their cloaks. Each of the kings was followed by four members of his family. Besides these there Were several of Mensor’s servants holding a small tablet like a tray, a rug with tassels, and some strips of thin stuff.
They followed St. Joseph in an ordered procession to the shelter at the entrance of the cave, where they covered the tray with the tasseled rug. Each king then placed on it some of the golden boxes and vessels which he took from his girdle; this was the offering which they made in common. Mensor and all the others took their sandals from off their feet, while Joseph opened the door of the cave. Two youths from Mensor’s following went before him, spreading out a strip of stuff on the floor of the cave before his feet and then retiring. Two others came close behind him with the tray of presents, which he took from them when he was before the Blessed Virgin, and falling on his knee placed them at her feet on a low stand. Those who had carried the tray went back. Behind Mensor stood the four members of his family, humbly bowing down. Seir and Theokeno with their followers stood at the entrance and under the shelter outside. They were all as though drunk with ecstasy and seemed transfused by the light which filled the cave, though no light was there save the Light of the World.
Mary was lying, rather than sitting, on a carpet to the left of the Infant Jesus; she was leaning on her arm. The Child lay in a trough covered with a rug and raised on a high stand, opposite the entrance to the cave and at the place where He was born. As the kings entered, the Blessed Virgin raised herself into a sitting position, covered herself with a veil, and took the Infant Jesus onto her lap under her ample veil. When Mensor knelt down and spoke touching words of homage as he put down his presents, humbly bowing his bared head and crossing his hands on his breast, Mary undid the red-and-white wrappings from the upper part of the Child’s body, which gleamed softly from behind her veil. She supported His head with one hand and held Him with the other. He was holding His little hands before His breast as if in prayer. He was shining with welcome, and now and then made friendly little gestures with His hands.
O what heavenly peace surrounds the prayers of these good men from the East! As I saw them, I said to myself: how clear and untroubled are their hearts, as full of goodness and innocence as the hearts of pious children. There is nothing violent in them, and yet they are all fire and love. I am dead; I am a spirit; otherwise, I could not see it, for it is not happening now—and yet it is now, for it is not in time; in God is no time, in God everything is present. I am dead. I am a spirit. As these strange thoughts came to me, I heard myself being told: ‘What is that to you? Be not troubled, look, and praise the Lord who is eternal and in whom are all things.’
I now saw Mensor bringing out of a pouch hanging at his girdle a handful of little thick shining bars. They were as long as one’s finger, pointed at the top, and speckled with little gold-colored grains in the middle. He offered these to the Blessed Virgin as his gift, laying them humbly on her knee beside the Child. She accepted the gold with loving gratitude, and covered it with a corner of her cloak. These little bars of natural gold were Mensor’s gift, because he was full of fidelity and love and was seeking for the holy truth with unshaken fervor and devotion. He then withdrew with his four companions, and Seir, the dark-brown one, came forward with his following and, falling with great humility on both knees, offered his present with touching words of homage. This was a little golden incense-boat full of little greenish grains of gum, which he laid on the table before the Infant Jesus. Incense was his gift because he embraced the will of God, and followed it willingly, reverently, and lovingly. He knelt there for a long time with deep devotion before withdrawing. After him, came Theokeno, the white-skinned one, and the oldest. He was very old and heavy and was not able to kneel down; but he stood bowing low and placed on the table a golden vessel containing a delicate green plant. It seemed to be rooted; it was a tiny green upright tree, very delicate, bearing curly foliage with little delicate white flowers. It was myrrh. His gift was myrrh, because it symbolizes mortification and the overcoming of passions; for this good man had conquered extreme temptations to commit idolatry, polygamy, and to give way to violence. He remained standing in deep emotion before the Infant Jesus with his attendants for a very long time, and I grew sorry for the other servants before the Crib having to wait so long to see the Child. The addresses made by the kings and their followers were extremely touching and childlike. As they knelt down and offered their presents, they said: ‘We have seen His star, we have seen that He is king over all kings, and we come to worship Him and to pay Him homage with our gifts’—or something like this. They seemed to be in an ecstasy, and with childlike and rapturous prayers committed to the Infant Jesus themselves and their families, their lands and their peoples, all their goods and possessions and everything of value that they owned. They besought the newborn King to accept their hearts and souls and all their thoughts and deeds, begging Him to enlighten them and to grant them every virtue and, while they were on earth, happiness, peace, and love. While thus praying, they were overflowing with loving humility; and tears of joy coursed down their cheeks and beards. They were blissfully happy; they thought that they had now reached the very star for which their ancestors had watched for centuries with faithful yearning. All the joy of promises fulfilled after many centuries was theirs.
The Mother of God accepted all these gifts with humble gratitude. At first she said nothing, but a gentle movement under her veil showed the joy and emotion that she felt. The Child’s bare body, which she had wrapped in her veil, seemed to shine from under her cloak. Afterwards she spoke a few, friendly, humble words of gratitude to each king, throwing her veil back a little as she did so. Ah, I said to myself, I have been given another lesson. With what sweet and loving gratitude she accepts each gift—she, who needs naught, who possesses Jesus Himself, accepts with humility every loving gift. From this I can surely learn how loving gifts should be received; I, too, in future will accept every kindness with thankfulness and all humility. How kind Mary and Joseph are; they kept nothing at all for themselves, but gave it all away to the poor.
When the kings with their attendants had left the cave and gone to their encampment, their servants came in. They had put up the tent, unloaded the baggage animals, and, after arranging everything, were waiting in patient humility before the entrance. There must have been at least thirty of them, as well as a host of boys who had nothing on but loin-cloths and little cloaks. The servants always came in fives, led by one of the important personages to whom they belonged. They knelt round the Child and venerated Him in silence. Afterwards the boys came in all together, knelt round and worshipped the Infant Jesus with childlike innocence and joy. The servants did not stay long in the cave, for the kings came back again, making a solemn entry this time. They had put on other cloaks of thin stuff which floated round them in ample folds; they carried censers in their hands and censed with great reverence the Child and the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph and the whole cave, withdrawing afterwards with low obeisances. This was a customary form of worship amongst these people.
During all this Mary and Joseph were as full of sweet joy as I ever saw them; tears of happiness often ran down their cheeks. The recognition and solemn veneration of the Infant Jesus, whom they had been obliged to lodge so poorly, and whose infinite glory was a secret hidden in their humble hearts, brought them endless consolation. By God’s almighty Providence, they saw the Child of the Promise being given, in spite of the blindness of mankind, what they themselves could not give him: the worship of the great ones of the earth with all the sacred splendor due to Him, prepared since centuries and sent from a far country. They worshipped Jesus with the holy kings, happy in the honor paid to Him.
The kings’ encampment was set up in the valley behind the cave, stretching as far as the tomb of Maraha. The beasts of burden were fastened in rows to posts between ropes. Beside the big tent, which was near the hill of the Cave of the Nativity, was an enclosure roofed with mats where part of the baggage was stored, though most of it was taken into Maraha’s tomb. The stars had come out when all had left the Crib, and they all assembled in a circle near the old terebinth tree which stood above Maraha’s tomb and there, with solemn hymns, held their service to the stars. I cannot express how movingly their singing echoed through the quiet valley. For so many centuries their forebears had gazed at the stars, prayed, and sung; and today all their yearning was fulfilled. They sang in raptures of gratitude and joy.
22. JOSEPH ENTERTAINS THE THREE HOLY KINGS.
Meanwhile Joseph, helped by two of the old shepherds, had set out a light meal in the kings’ tent. They brought plates with bread, fruit, honey-comb, bowls with vegetables, and flasks of balsam, arranging it all on a low table on a carpet. Joseph had got together all these provisions for the kings in the morning, having been forewarned of their arrival by the Blessed Virgin. When the kings and the members of their families returned to the tent after their evening hymn, I saw Joseph receiving them with great friendliness and begging them to be his guests and accept this modest meal. He reclined among them round the low table as they ate. He was not at all shy, and was so happy that he shed tears of joy. (When I saw this, I thought of how my dead father, who was a poor peasant, was obliged to sit at table with so many grand people when I was clothed at the convent. He was very humble and simple and had dreaded this sorely, but afterwards he was so happy that he wept for joy. Without wanting it he became the guest
of honor.) After this slight meal Joseph left them. Some of the more important persons accompanying the kings betook themselves to an inn at Bethlehem, the others lay down to rest on their couches spread out in a circle in the big tent.
When Joseph returned to the Crib, he put all the presents in a corner of the wall to the right of the Crib, placing a screen before it so that what was kept there could not be seen. Anna’s maidservant, who had remained behind to wait on the Blessed Virgin, had stayed all this time in the small side-cave, of which the door was in the entrance to the Cave of the Nativity. She did not come out until all had left the Crib. She was very serious and modest. I never saw either the Holy Family or this maidservant showing any worldly pleasure at the sight of the kings’ gifts. Everything was accepted with humble gratitude, and given away again with gentle charity.
When the kings had arrived that evening at the tax-collecting office in Bethlehem, I had seen a certain amount of disturbance there and much movement in the town. Some people followed the kings to the Valley of the Shepherds, but soon came back again. Afterwards, while the kings, radiant with holy joy, were worshipping and offering their gifts at the Crib, I saw some Jews lurking at a distance in the country round and murmuring angrily, and then going about in Bethlehem spreading all kinds of rumors. These miserable men made me shed bitter tears; I was grieved at heart for the evil people who, nowadays as in those distant times, stand about muttering and grumbling and spreading lies in their wrath; salvation is so close to them, and they thrust it from them. How unlike they are to the good kings who, in their trusting faith in the Promise, have come from so far and have found salvation. How I pity the hard-hearted and blind!
In Jerusalem during this day I saw Herod again with several scribes. They were reading from scrolls and talking of the statement made by the kings. Afterwards it was no more spoken of, as though the whole matter were to be ignored.
23. THE KINGS VISIT WITH THE HOLY FAMILY AGAIN. THEIR GENEROSITY TO THE SHEPHERDS.
[December 24 th:] Very early today I saw the kings and some of their followers pay separate visits to the Infant Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. During the whole day I saw them busy in their camp beside their beasts of burden distributing all kinds of things. They were full of joy and happiness, and gave away many gifts, as I have always seen done on joyful occasions. The shepherds who had rendered services to the kings and their train were given many presents, and I saw many poor people receiving gifts. I saw them hanging coverlets over the shoulders of some poor old women who crept up to them all bent. Several of the kings’ followers took a great liking to the Shepherds’ Valley, wishing to stay there and join the shepherds. They submitted this wish to the kings, who allowed them to leave their service and gave them rich presents. They were given blankets, household utensils, grains of gold, and also the donkeys on which they had ridden. When I saw the kings distributing a quantity of bread, I at first wondered where so much bread came from. Then I remembered having seen that sometimes, when they halted, they used their provision of flour to bake little thin flat loaves like rusks in iron moulds, which they carried with them. These loaves they packed tightly in light leather boxes, which they hung on their pack animals. Today many people came from Bethlehem and pestered the kings for gifts of all kinds. Some of these searched their baggage, and on various pretexts made greedy demands of them. Here, and in Jerusalem too, the sensation caused by their numerous following had been a great annoyance to the kings. They had arrived in a kind of triumphal procession, thinking to find general rejoicings over the newborn King, but after what had happened they now resolved to start their return journey quietly and with a smaller following, which would enable them to travel more rapidly. They therefore dismissed today many of their followers; some of whom remained behind in the Valley of the Shepherds, while others went on ahead to meeting-places arranged beforehand. I was surprised to see how much their train had diminished by the evening. The kings no doubt intended to travel the next day to Jerusalem and to tell Herod that they had found the Child; but they wanted to do this more quietly, and this was why they sent many on ahead, thus making the journey easier. They and their dromedaries could overtake them without difficulty.
In the evening they went to the Crib to say farewell. Mensor went in first, alone. Mary placed the Infant Jesus in his arms; he shed tears and his face was shining with joy. After him the two others came and wept as they said farewell. They brought vet more gifts, many pieces of different stuffs, some looking like undyed silk, some red and some with flowered patterns, and a number of beautiful thin coverlets; they also left behind their ample, thin cloaks. These were pale yellow and seemed to be woven of the finest wool; they were so light that they moved with every breath of air. They also brought many bowls standing one on the other, and boxes filled with grains, and a basket with pots of little delicate green bushes with small white flowers. There were three of these in the center of each pot, so arranged that another pot could be placed on the edge; the pots were built up above each other in the basket. This was myrrh. They also gave Joseph long narrow baskets containing birds; they had had a number of these hanging on their dromedaries for killing and eating.
They all shed many tears when they left the Child and Mary. I saw the Blessed Virgin standing up beside them as they said farewell. She held the Infant Jesus in her arms wrapped in her veil, and went a few steps with the kings towards the (hoar of the cave. There she stood still, and in order to give these holy men a remembrance, she took from her head the thin yellow veil covering the Infant Jesus and herself and handed it to Mensor. The kings received this gift with deep obeisances, and their hearts overflowed with awe and gratitude when they saw the Blessed Virgin standing before them unveiled with the Infant Jesus. They were weeping with joy as they left the cave. Henceforth the veil was the holiest treasure that they possessed.
The manner in which the Blessed Virgin accepted presents, although it did not show pleasure in the things themselves,
was particularly touching in its humility and in its real gratitude towards the giver. During this wonderful visit I saw in her no trace of self-interest, except that to begin with, out of love for the Infant Jesus and out of pity for Joseph, she allowed herself in all simplicity the joy of hoping that now they might perhaps find a shelter in Bethlehem and not be so contemptuously treated as on their arrival. She had been truly sorry for Joseph’s distress and confusion at this.
After the kings had said farewell it grew dark, and the lamp was lit in the cave. The kings went with their followers to the great old terebinth tree above Maraha’s grave, there to hold their evening service as they had the day before. A lamp was burning beneath the tree. When they saw the stars coming out, they prayed and sang their sweet songs. The voices of the boys sounded particularly lovely among the others. After this they went into their tent, where Joseph had once more prepared a light meal for them; and then some returned to the inn in Bethlehem, while the rest lay down in the tent.
24. DEPARTURE OF THE KINGS.
At midnight I suddenly saw a vision. I saw the kings lying asleep in their tent on rugs, and I saw the appearance of a shining youth among them. It was an angel. Their lamp was burning, and I saw them sitting up, half asleep. The angel woke them and told them to leave immediately, and not to go by Jerusalem but through the desert round the Dead Sea. They sprang in haste from their couches; some hurried to rouse their followers one went to the cave and woke St. Joseph, who hastened to Bethlehem to summon those who were in the inn. These, however, met him on his way there, for they had had the same vision. The tent was taken down, packed, and the rest of the encampment removed, all with wonderful speed. While the kings were taking once more a touching farewell of Joseph before the Crib, their followers were already hurrying southwards through the desert of Engaddi along the shores (If the Dead Sea. They traveled in separate parties so as to progress more quickly.
The kings begged that the Holy Family should fly with them, for danger most certainly threatened them, or at least that Mary should hide herself with the Child so as not to be molested because of them. They cried like children, embracing Joseph and speaking in the most moving manner. Then they mounted their dromedaries, which carried but little baggage, and hastened away across the desert. I saw the angel with them out in the fields, showing them their way; they seemed to be gone in an instant. They took different ways, about a quarter of an hour’s distance apart from each other. First they went for an hour towards the east, and then southwards into the desert. Their way home led through the region which Jesus traversed on His return from Egypt in the third year of His ministry.
|« Prev||XIII. THE JOURNEY OF THE THREE HOLY KINGS TO…||Next »|