Arrival of the Three Magi, Herod orders the Killing of the Newborn, Massacre of the Innocents
This double-capital also belongs to the cycle of representations from the infancy of Christ. Each of its four sides is architecturally structured with two or three arches. On the west side a miniature tower and other small architectural details represent the city of Jerusalem, into which the Three Magi are riding and so appear before Herod. Above them appears the star that they had seen in the East and that had gone before them (Mt 2:1-9).
The south side of the capital shows Herod, who is enraged by the news of the birth of the Rex Iudeorum, and with raised sword orders his soldiers to murder all the male children below the age of two in Bethlehem. The Massacre of the Innocents is represented on the east side below three arches. Here the miniaturized architectural backdrop is varied: instead of the facades of buildings we see the tops of domes appearing above the arches, perhaps to suggest that the episode is taking place in a different locality (Bethlehem and not Jerusalem). The scene is dramatic and shows the barbarity in which the infant children are put to the sword. Four of the children are killed by five soldiers, while a mother tries to wrest her son from the hands of the murderers. Two further soldiers stand with the hacked-off heads of children before Herod on the north side of the capital. Herod with crown and sceptre holds the leg of one of the massacred children in his right hand.
The murdered children of Bethlehem, described in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 2:16) and in several apocryphal texts, can be regarded as the first martyrs who shed their blood for Christ. They embody the souls of the sacrifice, as mentioned also in the book of Revelation.