Saint of the Week – St. Maurice

Statue of Saint Maurice. Germany, 1613. Stone. H: approx. 150 cm. Münster, Münster Cathedral. Hickey & Robertson, Houston/The Menil Foundation.

Statue of Saint Maurice. Germany, 1613. Stone. H: approx. 150 cm. Münster, Münster Cathedral. Hickey & Robertson, Houston/The Menil Foundation.

Since February is Black History Month in the United States, I decided to feature saints of African descent for the month.  Some will be officially recognized saints, others will be people who could be considered saints because of their work and devotion to God and his people.  So, let’s get started.

This weeks saint is St. Maurice.

While definitely not a household name when it comes to saints, St. Maurice is one we should all know about.  He is considered the first, official, black saint of the Catholic church.  He gained quite a following even before there was an official method for determining saints.  He was canonized simply because of the great respect and devotion his life and sacrifice for the church deserved.  Maurice was born in Thebes and served in the Roman army as a legionnaire in the third century.  He became a martyr in Switzerland when he refused to participate in a massacre of Christians.  He had been sent to Switzerland to put down a rebellion, but when he discovered that he was to kill Christians he refused.  Maurice and many in his company were also Christians and they could not stand to kill their brothers and sisters in the faith.  For refusing to follow orders, along with not offering sacrifices to Roman gods, Maurice along with almost all of his legion were executed.

What is interesting is that the first images depicting Maurice show him as a white man.  It was not until the 13th century that art began to depict him as the black African Egyptian that he truly was.  He is regularly depicted dressed in his Roman legion armor as he is considered the patron saint of soldiers, swordsmiths, armies, infantrymen.

I pray that St. Maurice serves as an example for us to not harm our fellow Christians whether with violence or even with our words.  I pray for those who stand up as martyrs even against the fear of death.  I pray that we would be receptive when we learn that what we once thought was “white” is indeed “black.”

More Information:
The Root – Who was the First Black Saint?
Return to Rome – Black Catholic Saints
National Catholic Reporter – Black Saints: Maurice

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