Tiles above entrance to Geroge Church in Isfahan
December 22, 1997
From Chapter XI (Of the province of Persia) of Marco Polo's "The Travels; The Description of the world" written in 1298. This translation is by William Marsden, revised by Thomas Wright (Konemann Travel Classics, Koln, Germany, 1996).
Persia was anciently a large and noble province, but it is now in great part destroyed by the Tartars. In Persia there is a city which is called Saba, from whence were the three magi who came to adore Christ in Bethlehem; and the three are buried in that city in a fair sepulchre, and they are all three entire with their beards and hair. One was called Baldasar, the second Gaspar, and the third Melchior.
Marco inquired often in that city concerning the three magi, and nobody could tell him anything about them, except that the three magi were buried there in ancient times. After three days' journey you come to a castle which is called Palasata, which means the castle of the fire-worshippers, and it is true that the inhabitants of that castle worship fire, and this is given as the reason.
The men of that castle say, that anciently three kings of that country went to adore a certain king who was newly born, and carried with them three offerings, namely, gold, frankincense, and myrth: gold, that they might know if he were an earthly king; frankincense, that they might know if he were God; and myrth, that they might now if he were a mortal man.
When these magi were presented to Christ, the youngest of the three adored him first, and it appeared to him that Christ was of his stature and age. The middle one came next, and then the eldest, and to each he seemed to be of their own stature and age. Having compared their observations together, they agreed to go all to worship at once, and then he appeared to them all of his true age.
When they went away, the infant gave them a closed box, which they carried with them for several days, and then becoming curious to see what he had given them, they opened the box and found in it a stone, which was intended for a sign that they should remain firm as a stone in the faith they had received from him.
When, however, they saw the stone, they marvelled, and thinking themselves deluded, they threw the stone into a certain pit, and instantly fire burst forth in the pit. When they saw this, they repented bitterly of what they had done, and taking some of the fire with them they carried it home.
And having placed it in one of their churches, they keep it continually burning, and adore that fire as a god, and make all their sacrifices with it; and if it happen to be extinguished, they go for more to the original fire in the pit where they threw the stone, which is never extinguished, and they take of none other fire. And, therefore, the people of the country worship fire.
Marco was told all this by the people of the country; and it is true that one of those kings was of Saba; and the second was Dyava, and the third was of the castle.
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