The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th) comes immediately after Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The two feasts commemorate the revelation of the infant Christ as the Saviour of the World to groups of people who mythologically symbolise the whole of humanity.

The shepherds, summoned by angels from the fields close to Bethlehem, represent the local, i.e., the Jewish, population, and also the poor and underprivileged. The Gospel of St Matthew tells the story of how “wise men from the East” followed a star to Bethlehem where Jesus had just been born. (Some people think it was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn like the phenomenon we saw in our own skies the other week. But how that star managed to “stop and stay” over Bethlehem is unclear).

The Wise Men, or Magi, represent those other than the Jews: gentiles, foreigners and sophisticates from different cultures.

At this time, it is appropriate to remember the huge importance the subject of The Adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi has had for European artists over the centuries. But what the Bible tells us is significantly different from what artists have chosen to depict. This is partly because many myths and embroidering’s of the tale have grown up over the centuries. Matthew makes no mention of how many “wise men” there were and doesn’t give their names. He specifies their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh though, and deeply symbolic they are: gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for the embalming of a corpse.