The Epiphany of the Lord – January 5, 2020

Adoration by Fra Fillipino Lippi, Uffizi Gallery. The story of the three kings is one of the most beloved of the Christmas season and has been interpreted by many artists from many countries and time periods. The story remains mysterious, no one knows for sure who the Magi were or how the star functioned in the story. Astronomers propose explanations to this day and bible scholars as well as cultural anthropologists publish journal articles on the Magi.
Procession of the Magi, Benozo Gozzoli, Chapel of the Magi, Florence 1459-1461

The Epiphany of the Lord
Lectionary: 20

Reading 1IS 60:1-6

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you:
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.

Cosimo de Medici commission Benozzo Gozzoli to paint murals for the Chapel of the Magi at the time of the Council of Ferrara in 1439, during which the heads of the Eastern and Western Churches agreed to unify – only to break apart again shortly thereafter. The mural depicts the exotic culture of their Eastern visitors, the cheetahs, the camels, and their retinue wearing luxurious costumes, who traveled over the Pryrennes. The Greek delegation included 700 travellers. The council was moved to Florence when plague hit Ferrara. Topics included filoque and purgatory. Each king is depicted as accompanied by a brigade of 11 men. Gozzoli had assisted Ghiberti on the Florence Baptistry doors, and the murals reflect that influence. He also worked under Fra Angelico, and the rocky landscapes and delicacy of colors is derived from that experience.

Responsorial PsalmPS 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13.

R. (cf. 11)  Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;
the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.
All kings shall pay him homage,
all nations shall serve him.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

Botticcelli Adoration of the Magi.

Reading 2EPH 3:2-3A, 5-6

Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace
that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

AlleluiaMT 2:2

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelMT 2:1-12

Melchior is portrayed on the West wall of the Chapel of the Magus, with his pensive face and long white beard, wearing purple velvet and riding a richly harnassed mule. In the background cheetahs trained to hunt in the Turkish fashion, chase and hold on to their prey. In the foreground, a falcon devours a rabbit. Two pages bear the gold ciborium for the incense and the sword. To the right, a doleful monkey sits behind an unseen rider.
Source: The Chapel of the Magi, Benozzo Gozzoli’s Frescoes in the Pallazzo Medici-Riccardi Florence, edited by Cristina Acidini Luchinat, p. 179.
Balthazar represents old age and winter in his white costume. Chapel of the Magi,

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.

Gozzoli uses costume colors as symbols: white, for the young Caspar, green for the mature Balthazar, and red for the old Melchior, following the symbolic coloring of the seasons – flowered spring, verdant summer and fruit-bearing autumn.


When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

Balthazar appears on the south wall of the Chapel of the Magi, and represents the prime of life. His elaborate headdress is inspired by the renaissance custom of warriors, who wore elegant wreathes of finely crafted silver under their helmets.
This is the orignal Fra Filippo Lippi painting for the Chapel of the Magi altar, which was moved to the Palazzo Vechio when Savanarola banished the Medicis from Florence. It remained there thru the 16th century, and is now in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin. This adoration setting is unusual, with a forest local (it is sometimes called Adoration in the Forrest) St. Bernard of Clairvaux is presented with John the Baptist (wearing a red robe over his camel hair undergarment) – both of whom were patrons of Florence. St. Bernard had written extensively about the trinity, which was also the topic of the Ferrara Council.
This is the replacement painting, done by the workshop of Fra Filippo Lippi, was probably commissioned by the Benedictine nuns of the Convent of Sant’Appolonia
This adoration done by Gentile da Fabriano was commissioned by another Florentine, Palia Strozzi, in 1420. This exquisite work may have inspired the very competitive Cosimo de Medici to commission the murals for the Chapel of the Magi.
The angel visiting the three kings in this charming bas relief by Gislebertu, a French medievall sculptor. It is carved in a capitol of the Romanesque cathedral of Auton, France in the 12 century.