WHAT BEFELL WHEN THE THREE KINGS RETURNED TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY.
And when they had ridden many days they said they would see what the Child had given them. So they opened the little box, and inside it they found a stone. On seeing this they began to wonder what this might be that the Child had given them, and what was the import thereof. Now the signification was this: when they presented their offerings, the Child had accepted all three, and when they saw that they had said within themselves that He was the True God, and the True King, and the True Physician.[NOTE 1] And what the gift of the stone implied was that this Faith which had begun in them should abide firm as a rock. For He well knew what was in their thoughts. Howbeit, they had no understanding at all of this signification of the gift of the stone; so they cast it into a well. Then straightway a fire from Heaven descended into that well wherein the stone had been cast.
And when the Three Kings beheld this marvel they were sore amazed, and it greatly repented them that they had cast away the stone; for well they then perceived that it had a great and holy meaning. So they took of that fire, and carried it into their own country, and placed it in a rich and beautiful church. And there the people keep it continually burning, and worship it as a god, and all the sacrifices they offer are kindled with that fire. And if ever the fire becomes extinct they go to other cities round about where the same faith is held, and obtain of that fire from them, and carry it to the church. And this is the reason why the people of this country worship fire. They will often go ten days’ journey to get of that fire.[NOTE 2]
Such then was the story told by the people of that Castle to Messer Marco Polo; they declared to him for a truth that such was their history, and that one of the three kings was of the city called SABA, and the second of AVA, and the third of that very Castle where they still worship fire, with the people of all the country round about.[NOTE 3]
Having related this story, I will now tell you of the different provinces of Persia, and their peculiarities.
NOTE 1.—“Mire.” This was in old French the popular word for a Leech; the politer word was Physicien. (N. et E. V. 505.)
Chrysostom says that the Gold, Myrrh, and Frankincense were mystic gifts indicating King, Man, God; and this interpretation was the usual one. Thus Prudentius:—
“Regem, Deumque adnunciant
Thesaurus et fragrans odor
Thuris Sabaei, at myrrheus
Pulvis sepulchrum praedocet.” (Hymnus Epiphanius.)
And the Paris Liturgy:—
“Offert Aurum Caritas,
Et Myrrham Austeritas,
Et Thus Desiderium.
Auro Rex agnoscitur,
Homo Myrrha, colitur
Thure Deus gentium.”