Balthazar (Magus)

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For other people named Balthazar, see Balthazar.
Saint Balthazar
Girolamo da Santacroce - The Adoration of the Three Kings - Walters 37261 - Detail A.jpg
Balthazar in The Adoration of the Three Kings by Girolamo da Santacroce
Three Magi, Three Kings, Three Wise Men
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Major shrine Shrine of the Three Kings, Cologne Cathedral
Feast 6 January (Epiphany)
11 January
23 July (translation of relics)
24 July (Cologne, Germany)
Attributes King bearing gifts, king on a camel, three crowns
Patronage Epilepsy, thunder, motorists, pilgrims, playing card manufacturers, sawmen, sawyers, travellers, travelling merchants, Cologne, Germany, Saxony

Saint Balthazar; also called Balthasar, Balthassar, and Bithisarea,[1] was according to tradition one of the biblical Magi along with Gaspar and Melchior who visited the infant Jesus after he was born. Balthazar is traditionally referred to as the King of Arabia and gave the gift of myrrh to Jesus. In the Western Christian church, he is regarded as a saint (as are the other two Magi).


The Gospels of the New Testament in The Bible do not give the names of the Magi (or even how many there were), but their traditional names are ascribed to a Greek manuscript from 500 AD translated into Latin and commonly accepted as the source of the names.[2] In this original manuscript, Balthazar is called Bithisarea which later developed into Balthazar in Western Christianity.[1] Balthazar was described in the 8th century by Saint Bede as being "[of] black complexion, with [a] heavy beard" with the "myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man".[3]

As part of the Magi, Balthazar followed the Star of Bethlehem first to the palace of Herod the Great who instructed them to return to him when they had found the Child Jesus. When they arrive at the house,[4] the Magi worshipped him and presented their gifts. Balthazar gave the gift of myrrh, which symbolised the future death of a king, as myrrh was an expensive item at the time.[5][6] Following his return to his own country, avoiding King Herod, it is purported that Balthazar celebrated Christmas with the other members of the Magi in Armenia in 54 AD but later died on 6 January 55 AD aged 112.[7]

Balthasar and Gaspar are characters in the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and the various film adaptions of the novel, which chronicles his later years.


Balthazar, along with the other Magi, is purported to be buried in the Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral following his remains being moved from Constantinople by Eustorgius I in 344 AD to Milan. In 1164, Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa moved them to Cologne.[8] Balthazar is commemorated on Epiphany with the other members of the Magi but in Catholicism, Balthazar's feast day is on the 11th of January.[9]

Blackface controversy[edit]

In Continental European countries where the Magi are portrayed, because of Saint Bede's description of him, Balthazar is often portrayed by a person in blackface in a tradition that dated back to the Middle Ages where dark skinned people were described as bringers of gold. In the 21st century, there have been a number of campaigns in Spain for a black person to play Balthazar rather than a person in blackface, which is problematic due to the tradition that local city Councillors play the role.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Excerpta Latina Barbari: 51B". Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  2. ^ *Metzger, Bruce, New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional, and Patristic, Volume 10, 1980, BRILL, ISBN 9004061630
  3. ^ "Three Kings Balthazar, Gaspar, Melchior". CNN. 2013-01-06. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  4. ^ Matthew 2:11
  5. ^ Tischler, Nancy (2010). All Things in the Bible: M-Z. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 476. ISBN 0313330840.
  6. ^ Freeman, Margaret (1978). The story of the Three Kings: Melchior, Balthasar and Jaspar. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 67. ISBN 9780870991806.
  7. ^ "The Magi". Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  8. ^ David Lowenthal, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), xvi.
  9. ^ "Magi". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1910-10-01. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  10. ^ "¡¡Guerra al Baltasar pintado!!" (in Spanish). 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2016-01-01.