The Three Wise Men, the pious lie of Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar

After the Conquest, theatrical representations called nexcuitiles or sacramentals were used as a form of indoctrination. Read how it happened.

The Three Wise Men, the pious lie of Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar
Three Wise Men. Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

The Three Wise Men - Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar - are the result of an invention of the Catholic Church that, in Mexico, developed after the Conquest as part of the evangelization process, so the Indians did not care if they worshiped Jesus Christ or Quetzalcoatl; they simply needed to believe in something.

According to 16th-century chroniclers, at that time theatrical representations called nexcuitiles or sacramentals were used as a form of indoctrination so that the Indians would understand that there was a new god. Early in New Spain, the worship of "the kings" was performed in the Nahuatl language; the Indians sang and participated. In 1570 a play in several acts and scenes involving many characters was written in Latin. The Franciscans lit bonfires on the nights of December 24 and January 6.

So far it is not known for sure when Jesus was born or when the kings arrived in Bethlehem. The gospel speaks of wise men, it never says how many. In different iconographic representations made in temples during the third and fourth centuries, two, three, and even four of them appear. The tradition of the Day of the Magi comes from a single and very brief mention in the Gospels. Matthew (2, 1-12), where it speaks of some pilgrims from the east who arrived in Judea guided by a star, to worship the newborn Jesus.

Traditionally it is considered that these "Magi from the East" were Babylonians, among other things because of some points in common with the Jewish people and because the rest of Israel was surrounded by the Roman Empire. However, many researchers consider them to have originated in Persia (today Iran), since many of the legends that today make up the feast of Christmas come from customs that predate Christianity.

In the ninth century, it was said that there were 40, while in the thirteenth century it was determined that there were three magi to ideologically represent the three continents and thus say that Christ was worshiped by the entire known world at the time. Other sources of ancient Christianity (Syriac and Armenian) thought of 12 kings by relating them to the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 apostles, while Egyptian Christians believed that there were 60.

It was then instituted that the three kings should be of white, black, and yellow skin color, as well as of different ages. Thus, around the image of Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar there is great confusion, because even the Bible does not specify who is who in case they had existed.

This image of the Three Kings was created in medieval Italy. It was transferred to America after the conquest as a feast to worship the birth of Jesus Christ. In some Eastern countries, for example, the arrival of the birth of Christ is celebrated on January 6, which manifests a whole series of variants of the different Catholic churches.

According to European tradition, the celebration of the Three Kings was done with human characters inside the churches. Symbolizing an archangel, a child was raised and sang in Latin. In Mexico, the same was done, but according to the traditions of the indigenous people, a woman never participated. The Virgin Mary was represented by a sculpture or a man disguised as a woman.

As in many parts of the world, the celebration of Three Kings Day in Mexico has adapted to new circumstances. In the past, the gifts were confectionery and cannelloni. There were songs and dances around this holiday; however, now it is just another holiday in the Catholic calendar that functions as part of great commerce in which the buying and selling of toys are more important than the celebration itself.

Children do not even know who St. Nicholas was, much less are they interested in the origin of this holiday. In southern Italy, on November 2nd, dead relatives bring toys to children, while a fairy appears with a stick to beat those who misbehave or give a sweet to the well-behaved ones. With the sole purpose of explaining the reality surrounding this celebration, this "invention" of the Catholic Church has become a "salad" in which different customs are involved.

From there to the existence of the animals that the wise men rode or the gold and myrrh to venerate Jesus, other feasts have been superimposed, especially from the Roman calendar, and that has to do with solstices or equinoxes. The feast of the "Epiphany" or the "Holy Kings", as it is now known, has its origin in the East and arose in a similar way to Christmas in the West, when the pagans, in Egypt, celebrated the feast of the winter solstice on December 25 and the rising of the light on January 6.

In the 11th century, in Seville, Spain, the first black brotherhood was formed, due to the presence of groups of black slaves. In the cathedral of that city there was a large painting with the image of the Virgin adored by kings, so the archbishop, protector of that society, determined that the sixth of January became a carnival of black slaves who paid homage to St. Gaspar, defender of the blacks. These associations spread throughout almost all of America during the Colony. They reached Havana, Argentina, and Venezuela, while so far no documents have been found to support the existence of black brotherhoods in Mexico.

This pious lie is a marvel. Seeing the joyful faces of the children when they receive their gifts is unparalleled and they will be very disappointed to learn the truth. This lie does not hurt anyone, much less the little ones who live in such a terrible world where the magic of imagination must last forever.

Source: National Institute of Anthropology and History