Friday 26 September 2008

Saint Maurice: martyr, black saint, Knight Commander of the Theban Legion and Patron Saint of the Holy Roman Empire

Saint Maurice (Moritz or Mauritius), pictured here with St Elmo, was the Knight Commander of the famous Roman Theban Legion in the 3rd century.

His Feast Day is 22 September.

The Legion, almost entirely composed of Christians, was ordered from Thebes in Egypt to Gaul to assist Maximian.

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus Herculius (c.250-c.310), commonly referred to as Maximian, was Caesar (junior Roman Emperor) from July 285 and Augustus (senior Roman Emperor) from 1 April 286 to 1 May 305. He shared the latter title with his senior co-emperor, Diocletian, and they made a formidable duo in persecuting Christians.

Maximian established his residence at Trier but spent most of his time on campaign. He spent the late summer of 285 suppressing the Bagaudae, rebels in Gaul. From 285 to 288 he fought against Germanic tribes along the Rhine frontier. Together with Diocletian, he ran a scorched earth campaign deep into the territory of the Alamanni tribes in 288, temporarily relieving the Rhenish provinces from the threat of Germanic invasion.

Bust of the Christian-persecuting Roman Emperor Diocletian

However, when Maximian ordered the Theban Legion to attack local Christians, they refused and Maximian ordered them to be punished with the savage punishment of decimation, whereby every tenth man was randomly executed.

More such orders followed but they still refused, encouraged by Maurice, and they were further punished. Finally, in response to their refusal to use violence against fellow Christians, Maximian ordered all the remaining members of the 6,600 strong Legion to be executed. This took place in Agaunum, which is now Saint Maurice-en-Valais, site of the Abbey of Saint Maurice-en-Valais, in Switzerland.

In the East of Switzerland is another St Moritz, the famous skiing resort, also named after St Maurice of Agaunum.

Near Agaunum, in a place still identifiable as a former temple to Mercury, god of travellers, a revelation led to the discovery of the bones of the Agaunum martyrs during the time of Theodore, Bishop of Octodurus (now Martigny), who was in office in 350 AD.

Their martyrology was written by Eucherius, Bishop of Lyon, who died in 494 AD.

He wrote:

"We often hear, do we not, a particular locality or city is held in high honour because of one single martyr who died there, and quite rightly, because in each case the saint gave his precious soul to the most high God. How much more should this sacred place, Agaunum, be reverenced, where so many thousands of martyrs have been slain, with the sword, for the sake of Christ."

The actual site of the martyrdom (or of the cache of bones) was pointed out to pilgrims as the "true place" the vrai lieu, a name it still carries, as Verroliez.

In 515, the basilica on the site became the centre of a monastery built on land donated by Sigismund of Burgundy, the first king of the Burgundians to convert from Arianism to Catholic Christianity.

The Bell tower of the Abbey of St Maurice in St Maurice-en-Valais, Switzerland

The liturgy at the Abbey, known as the laus perennis, "perpetual praise", of relays of choirs, was an innovation for Western Europe, imported from Constantinople. It was distinctive to the Abbey of St. Maurice and the practice spread widely from there.

St. Maurice's Abbey at Agaunum was the chief abbey of the Burgundian kingdom.

St Maurice became a patron saint of the Holy Roman Emperors.

In 926, Roman Emperor Henry I (919–936), ceded the present Swiss canton of Aargau to the Abbey, in return for St Maurice's lance, sword and spurs.

Aargau is the region in which is found the original seat of the Habsburgs, later the most famous of the Holy Roman Emperors.

St Maurice as a mounted Knight

The sword and spurs of Saint Maurice formed part of the regalia used at coronations of the Holy Roman Emperors (and later Austro-Hungarian Emperors), and were among the most important insignia of the imperial throne.

Moreover, the Holy Roman Emperors were traditionally anointed before the altar of Saint Maurice in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.

The Martyrdom of St Maurice and the Theban Legion

Emperor Henry I the Fowler held a royal court gathering (Reichsversammlung) at Magdeburg. At the same time the Mauritius Kloster, in honour of St Maurice, was founded.

In 961, Emperor Otto the Great built and enriched the cathedral at Magdeburg in preparation for his own tomb. In that year, in the presence of all of the nobility, on the vigil of Christmas, the body of St. Maurice was conveyed to Emperor Otto at Regensburg along with the bodies of some of the saint's companion legionaries. They were then conveyed to Magdeburg, received with great honour and are still venerated there.

Maurice is traditionally depicted in full armour, often emblazoned with a red cross. In folk culture he has become connected with the legend of the "Spear of Destiny", which he is supposed to have carried into battle; his name is engraved on the Holy Lance of Vienna, one of several relics claimed as the spear that pierced the side of our Lord upon the Cross.

The Holy Lance of Vienna.
It is said to be the spear by which Longinus pierced the side of Christ.
Longinus soon converted to Christianity and was later venerated as a saint

Hundreds of religious houses are dedicated to him as well as chivalric orders, including the famous Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece which later became the heirloom of the Holy Roman Emperors, and the Order of Saint Maurice. Many towns have been named after him, also.

Emperor Franz Joseph
in the robes of the Grand Master of the Most Illustrious Order of the Golden Fleece,
one of the grandest orders of chivalry in the Empire and dedicated to St Maurice

The Order of St Maurice was founded in 1434 by Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, who became Antipope Felix V. The Order declined, but in 1572 was re-established by Pope St Pius V at the instigation on the then Duke of Savoy.

In 1572 Pope Gregory XIII merged the Order of Saint Lazarus, a crusading order of leper-knights who tended other lepers as well as defended the Holy Land, with the Order of St Maurice.

The Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus.
The white cross is a cross botonny (the cross of St Maurice). The green Maltese cross is that of St Lazarus.

The new Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus was charged to defend the Holy See as well as to continue to assist lepers. The war galleys of the Order fought against the Turks and the Barbary pirates. When leprosy again broke out the Order founded, in 1773, a hospital in Aosta in Savoy.

The images of Saint Maurice in the Cathedral of Magdeburg show him as a black man and there is evidence to indicate that Maurice was Egyptian. Thus it is that the patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire is, in fact, a black man, indeed a black Roman Knight Commander (or Legatus) of the great Roman Legion called “The Theban Legion” celebrated in the Roman Martyrology as the Martyrs of the Theban Legion.

Medieval statue of St Maurice in Magdeburg Cathedral

All Catholics, not least black Catholics, may be justly be proud of this great soldier-saint and martyr of the Church.

St Maurice, Knight Commander of the Theban Legion, pray for us



Fred Preuss said...

Well, check the list of places in the 'new' world that allowed inter-racial marriage; you catholics have a significant edge over the protestants.
A lot easier to be inter-racial in New Orleans than Little Rock.

Tribunus said...

Yes, I suspected you'd be a racist, too, Fred.

I was right.

Fred Preuss said...

Are you serious?
Jeez, try to give you one compliment!
Come on, man, even us Prods aren't that literal-minded.
It's true, look it up, people of color had a much better chance of a halfway decent life in New Orleans than other places in the south.
And yeah, I approve. We're on the same side with this one.
I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition!

Tribunus said...

No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition...

...or a compliment from you, Fred!

I am glad that you were being sincere and not sardonic as has been your tone to date.

You must forgive me, in the context of your other slanders against the Catholic Church, repeated like a mantra, for thinking otherwise.

I withdraw the charge of racism.

And, I'm pleasantly surprised.

Perhaps you are amenable to reason after all.

People of colour were given better rights in Latin America, too, until the enemies of the Catholic Church, like the Marques do Pombal, began to take over.

They were also a lot more literate than blacks and Indians, and indeed many whites, in the Protestant north.

Red-neck hill billies from Little Rock and elsewhere conjoined with their racism a degree of illiteracy which no man could honestly hold up as an example of Protestant literacy superior to Catholic literacy.