Robin M. Jensen, lecturer

Event time: 
Monday, December 3, 2007 - 11:30am
Event description: 

The Adoration of the Magi in Early Western Artistic, Liturgical, and Textual Tradition

Part of the 2007-2008 Liturgy Symposium

Institute of Sacred Music Great Hall, 409 Prospect Street, New Haven

Refreshments for mind, body, and spirit will be served.

Free and open to the public.



The traditional twelve days of Christmas derives from the separation of the feast of the nativity on December 25 from the celebration of the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. The separation likely began in the West no later than mid-fourth century, where the magi’s arrival became the principle celebration held on January 6th. The Eastern churches, by contrast, continued to commemorate both Christ’s birth and baptism on that day, maintaining its prominence as the Feast of Light. Meanwhile, early Christian art in the West (catacombs, sarcophagi, and mosaics) represent the adoration of the magi earlier and more frequently than any other aspect of the nativity story. This early imagery generally (but not always) shows three nearly identical figures, dressed in costumes that identify them as Persian, bringing gifts to the Christ child who sits on his mother’s lap.

This presentation will examine the significance and early history of the story of the magi, paying attention to its incorporation into preaching, hymns, the liturgical calendar, and visual art.


Robin M. Jensen is the Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. Beginning with her doctoral studies at Columbia University (in the history of early Christian doctrine, worship, art, and architecture) she strives to integrate verbal with visual culture in her research, writing, and teaching. Her published works include, Understanding Early Christian Art (Routledge, 2000), The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (Eerdmans, 2004) and Face to Face: The Portrait of the Divine in Early Christianity (Fortress, 2004). Her current projects include a volume co-written with her husband (J. Patout Burns) on the practice of Christianity in Roman Africa, a co-edited volume of essays, titled Theology, Visual Art, and Contemporary Culture (Liturgical Press, forthcoming), and a multi-authored catalogue of early Christian baptisteries.