Saint Maurice: The Iconography

In Sion, Gaul [now in Switzerland] at a spot named Agaunum [now St. Moritz], the natal day Not their birthday but they day they died and were "born again" into Heaven of the Theban Martyrs: Maurice, Exuperius, Candidus, Victor, Innocens, and Vitalis, along with companions from their legion. They were put to death for Christ under Maximian, making the world brighter through their glorious passion. suffering Roman Martyrology for September 22

The Golden Legend retells a story from the 5th century by Eucherius of Lyon in which a legion of troops from Thebes in Egypt is assigned to Agaunum (St. Moritz) in Switzerland. When the Emperor Maximian orders them to sacrifice to the gods and take an oath against the Christians they refuse, being Christian themselves. For this, according to the legend, the entire legion was put to death along with its leader, St. Maurice (image).

Portraits of St. Maurice usually put him in the military gear of the artist's own time, as at right, and sometimes make him an African. (His name is related to the Latin Maurus, "a Moor.") As in the image, he usually carries the sword with which he was martyred and a banner. The banner may have an eagle, as here, or a cross. When he carries a shield, as in the second picture on the right, it most often has a yellow or white cross on a red field. A palm branch to signify the martyrdom may also be used, as in the third picture at right, but usually it is absent.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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Cranach, 1522-25 (See description page)


A late medieval portrait (See description page)


15th century, attributed to Bellini (See description page)

MORE IMAGES

DATES

  • The Legend dates the martyrdom to the year 280. In fact, Maximian did not become co-emperor (with Diocletian) until 286.
  • Feast day: September 22

NAMES

  • The German name is Sankt Moritz. The city of Agaunum, where Maurice was martyred, has had the name St. Moritz since the 12th century.

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Golden Legend #141: html or pdf.
  • Eucherius' account of the Passion and subsequent miracles of St. Maurice and his companions is in Acta Sanctorum, Sept. vol. VI, 342-403.
  • Acta Sanctorum, September vol. 6, 308-403 and 895-926.