Holy Innocents

First Century

The Holy Innocents are the boys of Bethlehem put to death by King Herod the Great after the Magi from the East visited the baby Jesus, then left for home without stopping in Jerusalem to give Herod news about “the newborn king of the Jews.” This slaughter is related in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, but is not mentioned by other sources, including the Jewish historian Josephus. Estimates of the number killed range from 10 or 12, based on the likely population of Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth, to 64,000, a fantastic figure cited in the Syrian liturgy. This feast has been celebrated in the West since the fifth century; the Holy Innocents are the patrons of foundlings.

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