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'Gifts of Magi' Go Display in Athens

December 20, 1986|From Times Wire Services

ATHENS — Gold, frankincense and myrrh claimed by their monastic owners to be the gifts of three wise men to the infant Jesus were on public display this week for only the second time in five centuries.

The items are being shown at St. Athilios Cathedral in Larissa, a central Greece agricultural service town of 150,000, until Christmas evening.

"Children from around the country are coming to see gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh which the three kings of Persia gave to the newly born Christ in Bethlehem," said Father Dimitrios Sarris.

The story of the "Magi"--more akin to sages to than kings--appears in the Gospel of Matthew and is regarded by many scholars who use critical methods as a literary invention to herald the Messiah, among other motives.

Sarris said three monks from the monastic republic of Mount Athos escorted the gifts to the cathedral only after assurances from Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's government, including a promise the gifts would be guarded.

The items were believed to have been brought to Mt. Athos, or the Holy Mountain, from Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453. "The story of the gifts of the Magi has been a part of Greek Christian tradition for centuries," said Spyros Alexiou, a writer on religious affairs.

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