St. Victor the Moor

In Milan, the natal day not his birthday but the day of his death, when he was "born again" into Heaven of St. Victor Martyr. A Moor, he was a Christian from an early age. When he was a soldier in the imperial camp he was ordered by Maximian to sacrifice to idols. He persevered strongly in his confession of faith in God, so he was beaten with clubs. But God protected him and he felt no pain. Then molten lead was poured over him, but it harmed him not at all. Finally, he finished the race of glorious martyrdom when he was beheaded. – Roman Martyrology for May 8

St. Victor was a soldier based in Milan, the imperial capital during the reign of the Emperor Maximian (286-305). Some later medieval documents and one church name refer to him as St. Victor "the Moor," but in most references and in all other names of churches dedicated to him he is simply "St. Victor" or "St. Victor, Martyr of Milan."

When Maximian was informed that Victor was a Christian, he summoned him and demanded an explanation. The saint proclaimed that he had been a Christian from childhood and worshiped only "Jesus Cbrist, son of the living God, born of the Virgin Mary." The emperor then had him imprisoned and tortured for six days, after which he mockingly asked, "How is your health?" When Victor replied, "Christ is my health and my strength" he was subjected to three more days of torture punctuated by offers of preferment and wealth if he would recant. Then he was beaten mercilessly with cudgels and molten lead was poured over him. God kept him from feeling pain from these torments, and at one point he even managed to escape and hide in the imperial gardens. But when the guards recaptured him Maximian finally ordered that he be beheaded and his body exposed to be eaten by wild beasts. However, two beasts guarded the body until it could be taken away by Maternus, the bishop of Milan at the time.

In the image at right St. Victor's attribute is the sword with which he was beheaded. Because the word "Moor" is so often absent from the references, it is no surprise that the image depicts him as a white person. Indeed, even St. Maurice, whose very name identifies him as African, is portrayed as white in many medieval images.

A number of other martyrs of the time also bore the name Victor. In his article in the Acta Sanctorum Godfrey Henschen manages to disentangle their stories and survey the history of the various Milanese churches dedicated to this particular St. Victor.

Prepared in 2022 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.

HOME PAGE


Francesco and Valerio Zuccato, St. Victor. See the description page for a discussion of why this is most likely St. Victor the Moor and a survey of the other military martyrs by that name.

DATES
  • Said to have died during the persecution of Diocletian, 303-305.

NAMES

  • Sometimes referred to as "Saint Victor, Martyr of Milan"
  • In the Middle Ages churches were built in Milan on locations remembered in St. Victor's legend. Thus S. Victoris ad Theatrum, for the place where he managed to escape his guards, S. Victoris ad Ulmum, for the name of the garden where the guards recaptured him, and S. Victoris ad Corpus for the place where his body (corpus) was exposed and guarded by the beasts.

BIOGRAPHY