In Pursuit of the Three Magi

Greetings from St. Jean Pied de Port in France.  Tomorrow morning, I set out walking the Camino de Santiago.  

Over the last several months, I’ve had occasion to think about what it is to be a pilgrim.  The first pilgrims in the Christian tradition were probably the three Wisemen, or Magi, who traveled to visit the Christ child.  Their journey was fraught with danger.  Moreover, they had to outfox Herod and, to protect the baby Jesus, return home by a different route than the one they took following the star to Bethlehem.

As it happens the Adoration of the Magi is one of my favorite subjects in art.  Early in our marriage, my wife and I traveled to Budapest.  We were there in the days leading up to Christmas.  On our first night, in the window of a shop, we saw a beautiful painting of the Adoration of the Magi.  We hemmed and hawed and ultimately didn’t purchase it.  

It was early in our trip.  It cost more than we should spend.  Surely, we would find something later in the trip we liked even better.

Well, we didn’t.  To this day, we regret not purchasing that painting.  We try not to impulse buy souvenirs and mementos when traveling, but we do ask ourselves, “will this be a three Wisemen situation?” when we eye something of beauty as we wander.

When my parents were downsizing my mother gifted me three hand-painted hanging wooden Magi which they acquired in Mexico the year I was born.  We fondly call them the “Three Wise Guys” and they grace our dining room from Advent through Epiphany.  They remind me of the many gifts given to me by my parents.

The chapel at my home parish, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City, has an altarpiece that depicts the Adoration of the Magi.  I’ve contemplated it on many occasions during services and musical concerts.

For many years I have been searching for an icon of the three Magi.  Finally, this summer, in a shop in Chania, Crete, I found one.  The proprietor of the store said that while there are many nativity icons, it is rare for them to include the three Magi.  Having learned the lesson of Budapest, I didn’t hesitate to purchase this one.  I meditate on it daily as I prepare for my Camino.

Recently I came across an Epiphany hymn by Christopher Idle (1938-   ).  The second verse describes the three Magi as pilgrims and reads:

Pilgrims they were, from unknown countries,
searching for one who knows the world;
lost are their names and strange their journeys,
famed is their zeal to find the child:
Jesus, in you the lost are claimed,
aliens are found and known and named.

Christopher Idle (1938-   )

For me, Idle’s words sum up the essence of a pilgrimage.  One is searching.  One is embarking on a strange journey.  One needs to be full of zeal.  One will be lost.  One will be claimed. One will be an alien. One will be found.  One will be known.  One will be named.

I’m excited to see what happens over the next 500 miles!  Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

Fundraising progress is 74% of 75k

Published by Rob Radtke

President & CEO, Episcopal Relief & Development, husband, father, friend, traveler, reader, New Yorker.

9 thoughts on “In Pursuit of the Three Magi

  1. Thank you for these wonderful reflections and I look forward to those in the future. Im trying to feel like I’m accompanying you on this walk–walking is my best recreation everyday and Shadow and I dont miss. We’ll dedicate the next month to you.

    I love you, treasured child. Mom


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