In the story about Herod and the Wise Men in Matthew 2, we read that “some men who studied the stars came from the east….and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshipped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh….”
Frankincense comes from a leafy forest tree that grows mainly on the coast in Somalia, a country in Africa. It doesn’t need soil and can grow straight out of the rock. In Biblical times Jewish people lit frankincense to create a sweet scent as part of their Sabbath ceremony. To keep it safe, frankincense was stored with other rare spices in a great chamber inside the Temple at Jerusalem.
Myrrh comes from bushes that grow on the coast in Egypt and which have knobbly branches ending in pointed spines. The bark is made up of many tubes that a pale yellow liquid flows through which then hardens into a reddish-brown lumpy substance called resin. In Bible times myrrh was used as an ingredient in incense, perfumes and holy oil.
Myrrh was also one of the spices used when people were buried
because it kept the body smelling sweet. After Jesus died,
Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus from the cross and he
and Nicodemus (a man who had talked to Jesus) wrapped Jesus’s
body with 35 kilograms of myrrh and aloes in long sheets of
linen cloth. You can read more of the story in John 19:38-42.
Click the picture to see a larger version - you might want to save it or print it too!