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The Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral is the largest reliquary of the Middle Ages

Marija Georgievska

One of the most evocative tales in the Bible is that of the journey made by the three wise men to Bethlehem. The Shrine of the Three Kings is a reliquary said to contain their bones.

It is a large gilded and decorated triple sarcophagus placed above the high altar of Cologne Cathedral.

It is considered the high point of Mosan Art and the largest reliquary of the Middle Ages.

The Shrine of the Three Kings. Photo Credit

The Shrine of the Three Kings. Photo Credit

 

It is placed above and behind th high altar of Cologne Cathedral. Photo Credit

It is placed above and behind the high altar of Cologne Cathedral. Photo Credit

According to legend, the “relics of the Magi” were originally situated at Constantinople but brought to Milan in an oxcart by Eustorgius I, to whom they were entrusted by Emperor Constantine in 314.

Eight centuries later, in 1164, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa took the relics of the Magi and give them to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel.

Parts of the Shrine were designed by the famous medieval goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun. Photo Credit

Parts of the Shrine were designed by the famous medieval goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun. Photo Credit

 

The relics were brought to Cologne from Milan in 1164. Photo Credit

The relics were brought to Cologne from Milan in 1164. Photo Credit

The Shrine is shaped like a basilica with two sarcophagi stand next to each other, with the third sarcophagus resting on their roof ridges.

It is approximately 43 inches wide, 60 inches high, and 87 inches long. The decoration of the structure is rich with filigree and enamel and is covered with over 1000 jewels and beads.

The basic structure is made of wood, with gold and silver overlay.

The entire outside of the shrine is covered with an elaborate decorative overlay. Photo Credit

The entire outside of the shrine is covered with an elaborate decorative overlay. Photo Credit

 

Wooden core of the Shrine of the Three Magi. Photo Credit

A wooden core of the Shrine of the Three Magi. Photo Credit

On the sides, there are depictions of the prophets, the apostles, and evangelists.

On one end there are images of the Adoration of the Magi, Mary enthroned with the infant Jesus, and the Baptism of Christ, and above, Christ enthroned at the Last Judgement.

The other end shows scenes of the Passion and has a bust of Rainald of Dassel in the center.

The bones were wrapped in white silk and returned to the shrine. Photo Credit

The bones were wrapped in white silk and returned to the shrine. Photo Credit

The shrine was finally opened in 1864, and was found to contain the bones of Philip I, Archbishop of Cologne, along with some coins belonging to him.

Today, the Shrine rises above the medieval high altar, making this area the main focus of the Cologne Gothic Cathedral, which was built as a stone reliquary for this precious shrine.