51

I was recently in Prague, and while visiting churches I saw several times the inscription "K+M+B 2016" (sometimes with a C instead of K) written in chalk on a wall or a door. I only saw this in (Christian) churches so I assume this has some religious meaning. What does it mean?

  • All of you are wrong... It means : "Christus Multorum Benefactor"! And nothing more... Chears! – user50425 Aug 28 '16 at 20:12
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    "Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar" are "Kašpar, Melichar a Baltazar" in Czech. That is why there is K instead of C very often. – vojta Aug 29 '16 at 7:50
  • This is also mentioned in Wikipedia articles Biblical Magi (current revision) and Star singers (current revision) – Martin Aug 31 '16 at 1:27
  • A common joke in Czechia is that is means “Klíče, mobil, brýle” – keys, cell phone, glasses – the three things you don’t want to forget there. – Glutexo Jul 25 '18 at 5:52
57

It looks like it is a yearly thing, renewing the old one when the new one is up. In the church I read about it was done as part of the Epiphany Mass.

It is a blessing to the house.

20 and 15 being the year, C (K), M, B being the initials of the traditional names of the wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, they can also stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, the Latin words meaning, May Christ bless this home.

I found that on this site which explains more about the custom.

And here is an other site, with an other year.

As you can see from the sites I linked to, it is not restricted to Czech republic, one of them clearly about a church in the UK while the other is about seeing the letters and numbers on the walls in Germany.

In the comments it is mentioned that it is common in Czech republic and in several German speaking areas, and that it is often done by (young) children, as part of the Epiphany traditions.
That is the feast celebrating the coming of the three wise men to Jesus soon after birth, the day of the celebration is January 6th (in the Roman Catholic church at least, and in the churches split off from it.) And hardly known these days, it also used to be called the 12th day of Christmas and was the end of the holiday season.

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    Very common to see 20 C+M+B 16 on houses in (South) Germany. I would not understand why it is on churches, though, since they are already holy buildings … – Jan Aug 28 '16 at 12:12
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    Churches do seem to like to revive the tradition of blessing.... see the links. – Willeke Aug 28 '16 at 12:22
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    It is a christian tradition also of Austria and South Tyrol (where I live in, which is in northern Italy near the Austrian border and which was Austrian territory before WWI). Usually kids roam the streets (especially in little towns or villages) during the Christmas period and ring the doorbells asking for some offerings (usually for their first communion ceremony party, but also to help their parish or the poors in their community). If let in they may also sing Christmas songs. Anyway they leave that marking on the door with white chalk as a blessing and in memory of the three wise men. – Lorenzo Donati Aug 28 '16 at 15:31
  • Here in Texas some of the Methodists do that, on the doorway of their home. – mxyzplk Aug 29 '16 at 1:55
  • In Poland it's the priest who writes that on doors of homes he visited. Which is great peer-pressure : ) – Agent_L Aug 29 '16 at 12:10
34

It is a christian tradition also of Austria and South Tyrol (where I live in, which is a province of northern Italy near the Austrian border, and which was Austrian territory before WWI).

Usually kids roam the streets (especially in little towns or villages) during the Christmas period and ring the doorbells asking for some offerings (usually for their first communion ceremony party, but also to help their parish or the poors in their community). If let in they may also sing Christmas songs.

Anyway they leave that marking in white chalk on the door of the households they visit as a blessing and in memory of the three wise men (Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar).

Here is an example taken from this blog page (in Italian):

enter image description here

In that passage there is also written that sometimes it is the priest himself that writes that on the doors as a blessing when visiting the households (in my experience this is seldom done in bigger towns, where the kids are the ones who make that writing most of the times).

This Google Search shows many similar images.

This further passage is interesting:

Sulle lettere in sè, C+M+B, ci sono due interpretazioni, entrambi plausibili: per qualcuno è la semplice abbreviazione di "Christus Mansionem Benedicat", cioè "Cristo benedica questa casa". Per altri è invece l'abbreviazione di Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, cioè dei nomi dei tre Re Magi.

Translation (by me):

As for the letters themselves, C+M+B, there are two interpretations, both likely: for someone it's the plain abbreviation of "Christus Mansionem Benedicat", that is "May Christ bless this house". For other people it's the abbreviation of Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar, i.e. of the names of the three Wise Men.

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    This is a tradition in Bavaria too. Here it's not random kids, but the acolytes of the local parish. – user19361 Aug 28 '16 at 17:57
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    @Stefan Maybe I wasn't much clear about that, but also here the kids are usually those of the local parish, although in larger towns, where more than one parish "share" some territory, there may be some overlap. – Lorenzo Donati Aug 28 '16 at 18:16
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    Note that in Austria this tradition is quite a big thing and now organised by the development cooperation agency of the Catholic Children's movement and donations are used for projects in poor countries. dka.at/english – TheEspinosa Aug 29 '16 at 8:11
  • I've wondered about the reason for splitting the year into e.g. "20" and "11". It seems so unnatural. Is there a significance to that split or perhaps a cultural reference? The only one I can think of is that it just happens that "C" in roman is "100" so it was neat to "reuse" it. However, since the digits in front of it are of Arabic descent, it seems like a dumb guess. – Konrad Viltersten Aug 31 '16 at 7:10
20

I am from southern Austria. Here groups of children, dressed as "Die heiligen 3 Könige" (the 3 wise men) walk from house to house and:

  • Sing some songs
  • Bless the house and people
  • Write "C + M + B" and the year on the door (usually with chalk)
  • Collect donations in return, for some caritas/church projects

Many people think that it stands for the names of the 3 wise men (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar), but i was told it stands for „Christus mansionem benedicat“ („Christus segne (dieses) Haus!“). Not sure which is true.

This is done every year in the days around the 6th of january (Dreikönigstag)

Article in German with pictures

Example from wikipedia

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    It's also done in northern Germany (Niedersachsen) and the groups of children are called "Sternsinger" (star-singers), some parishes also send a group to the president of Germany sternsinger.de/sternsingen/empfang-bundespraesident – Sumyrda Aug 29 '16 at 6:15
  • @Sumyrda Really? In the all-protestant Lower Saxony? One place where I definitely not would have expected it … – Jan Aug 29 '16 at 12:38
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    @Jan Well at least in villages with a catholic church, of which there are quite a few. – Sumyrda Aug 29 '16 at 18:24
  • +1, love the local knowledge! More answers like that please – Gayot Fow Aug 30 '16 at 0:12
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In Czech Republic, it's signature of the Three wise men (literally Three kings in Czech), Kašpar, Melichar and Baltazar. Some children (probably from observing families) still go caroling on the 6th of January. But mostly the initials are just a custom devoid of any religious meaning, something the small children do in pre-schools during art sessions, together with creating paper crowns for costumes.

8

It means Christus mansionem benedicat (May Christ bless this home) but it's commonly misunderstood as three kings initals and that's why you can see all those K+M+B instead of C+M+B. Keep in mind it's a mistake. These are not initals despite most of people believing so.

What's important to remember is that those '+' signs are not pluses, this is not a mathematical equation, although one may find places with K+M+B=2016 (sic!). Those '+' represent crosses.

So the most correct form is C†M†B 2016.

There's an old tradition of blessing chalk in Catholic Church on 6th January. After Christmas priests start visiting houses and blessing households. Depending on region it all takes place, priest is writing 'C†M†B 2016' on the house's door or households are waiting for him with that symbol already written.

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    Any source confirming that everyone is wrong and you're right? – Najib Idrissi Aug 31 '16 at 6:16
  • @NajibIdrissi Play nice. I'd like to see the source of that claim too, of course, but at any rate we can give the guy credit for approaching it out of the box, can't we? Maybe in the circles where they live, that's the common belief and who's to say for sure which is right? Interesting alternative, in my view, don't you agree? – Konrad Viltersten Aug 31 '16 at 7:13
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    @KonradViltersten I'm not interested in "interesting alternatives", I'd like to know what the truth is... I just find it weird that the managers of the St Vitus cathedral would somehow be wrong about this, for example (IIRC it was written with a K there). The only thing this answer has over the accepted answer is that the "three wise men" interpretation is allegedly wrong, so I'd like to have a source for this. – Najib Idrissi Aug 31 '16 at 7:30
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    @NajibIdrissi I'm definitely not questioning the wisdom of St Vitus cathedral's employees (not like the church even has been wrong on anything ever, right?). Joke aside, I appreciate your strictness for truth seeking and I don't question it. However, let's keep in mind that this is a community driven site and while your opinion on what you're interested in is important, others' interest are equally important. I can't speak for others but as far I'm regarded, I find OP's answer interesting and refreshing. Please do note that I too would love to see OP's source to exclude speculations. – Konrad Viltersten Aug 31 '16 at 8:08
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Some notes to the origin (because it seems no answer mentions it):

In the bible, among the first people to see the newborn Jesus, there were three foreign scholars/kings/...?, commonly called Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Before Jesus was born, they heard a propecy about him, startet to travel to see him, and were led to the place were he was born by a moving star (see the 4. person in LectorHectors answer, symbolizing the star).

They also brought presents: (among other things?) there were gold, incense and myrrhe (all three pretty valuable back then).
...
Today, eg. in Austria, groups of children "travel" around on 06.01., usually organized by the local priest, and often with king costumes. That they sing christmas songs, write on house doors (if the owner allows it) etc. is sufficiently covered by others, but some of them even now give out incense for home usage.
Nowadays, the whole action of course is connected with charity; many people donate money (where it goes depends on the location). (And the children usually get quite a few sweets too).

0

As some others here already mentioned it means

Christus Mansionem Benedicat

which is Latin for

May Christ bless this home.

It's not only written on churches, but on every house's door (for those who want it).

It is a coincidence that Caspar Melchior and Balthasar have the same initials.

I don't have a written source, our local priest told me so, and we learned that at school (Germany). I also have never seen K+M+B, but obviously this version exists as well.

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    If you are sure that you're right and the others are wrong, you better edit this Wikipedia page as it clearly mentions the three kings as well. (e.g. "A tradition in Poland and German-speaking Catholic areas is the writing of the three kings' initials") – Shadow Wizard Aug 29 '16 at 12:46
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The custom of chalking the doors yearly just after Christmas was explained to me as commemorative of the visitation by the 3 wise men who sought him assiduously were guided by the heavenly light to his place at the manger -- that we who dwell in places with doors should remember that such places were denied to Mary when she and Joseph sought accommodations at an inn -- that we would do wisely to ask the Lord's blessings upon our doors -- which were symbolic of the shelter to which they regulated access -- the blessing was addressed directly to the door -- from Psalm 121.8: May the Lord keep thy going in and thy going out; from henceforth now and for ever.

protected by JonathanReez Aug 30 '16 at 7:39

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