St. Maurice: the Black Roman General killed for refusing orders to persecute Christians

Statue of St. Maurice

He was slain with his legion for standing up to the king’s order to hunt down Christians in the region. For his valor and faith, St. Maurice was martyred in the Cathedral of the German city of Magdeburg with his name inscribed on the sculpture.

He was born in Thebes, Egypt, in 250 CE where he had his early upbringing, and later became a Roman General in the Theban legion, according to art way. The image of St. Maurice is depicted as a Black man in his war accouterments flanked by his spear in his right hand.

Cultural anthropologists argue that this symbolism of St. Maurice’s identity challenges western stereotypes which often play against the Black race, according to Black Central European.

Oral tradition posits that the sculpture of his statue was the handiwork of Cleofee Casanova who designed it in 1902. Before it was relegated to the storehouse in 1946, the statue of St. Maurice was positioned at the entrance of the Basilica, as reported by the Cathedral website. It re-emerged in 1975 when it was restored and its history retold.

Historical documents say St. Maurice was a Roman General who led a Theban legion in the late 3rd century CE. They were stationed in Egypt Roman where practicing Christianity was in vogue but was not the official faith of the empire.

It was against this background that St. Maurice was ordered to carry out the persecution of local Christians. His mortal remains were taken to his home region of Agaunum present-day Switzerland where his exploits were celebrated.

Given the wide popularity of St. Maurice, many German states adopted the philosophy underpinning the sculpture and placed the statue at various vantage points. A classical example is Emperor Otto I who made St. Maurice a patron saint of the empire and protector of Magdeburg.

The Hohenstaufen dynasty leveraged the symbolism of St. Maurice to promote its ideologies in the 12th and 13thcenturies. The dynasty was seeking to unite the people of Germany and Southern Italy and place their lands under one authority. In so doing, the emperor sought to ride on the appeal St. Maurice had on the Christian community within that period.

It is unclear whether it was the church under the leadership of Archbishop Albert II which pushed for the erecting of the statue, or King Fredrick’s pronouncement, but, historians said the presence of the statue had a huge influence on the Christian community under Hohenstaufen rule.

In a Catholic society where symbolism wields a lot of meaning, the use of the St. Maurice statue consolidated the authority of the dynasty. The use of a black saint was to enable Fredrick II to reach out to both the conservative Catholics and those who were not aligned with religious faith.

It became a propaganda tool for many kings who rode on the appeal black saints had on the populace to promote a homogeneous society and Christianity.

Until the slave trade permeated Europe and its allied colonies, the depiction of St. Maurice as a unifying figure had a certain influence in religious circles.

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