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Catholic Dictionary




Members of the priestly caste of the Mazdean religion, with special reference to the wise men who brought gifts to Jesus at his birth. The appearance of an unusual star caused them to leave the East in search of a king of whose birth the star was a sign. Herod asked them to return after finding the Infant. But the Magi, warned in a dream, went back to the East by another way. They are described as bringing symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, are first mentioned in the sixth century. The Adoration of the Magi early became one of the most popular subjects of representation in art, the first extant painting being in the Cappela Greca of the Priscilla Catacomb (Rome), dating from the second century.