German, drinking horn decorated with a statuette of St. Maurice. Illustration from the Hallesche Heiltumsbuch, 1525-27. Colors on parchment, 350 by 250 mm. Hofbibliothek, Aschaffenburg, Germany

The armored figure of St. Maurice tops the slender spire of the vessel’s cover. The saint’s elevated position evokes a brief but important episode in the long history of his veneration in medieval and early-modern Europe.

Born in Thebes, an ancient religious site located in upper Egypt, Maurice joined the Roman army in the late third century. Soon he converted to Christianity, a spiritual reorientation that put him directly at odds with the state cult of the divinized emperor.

According to legend, Maurice commanded a large body of Roman soldiers. The Theban Legion, as it was known, numbered only Christians among its ranks. Sent far to the west to quell a rebellion in Gaul, the unit received orders to attack other Christians. For their refusal to obey, the entire legion was put to death near the town of Agaunum. Maurice and his companions soon emerged as the center of a cult of martyred warrior saints.

By the 10th century, Maurice’s reputation as a stalwart servant of Christ led to his adoption as the ideal symbol of the expansive territorial ambitions of the Germanic rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. One of the most significant promotions of his cult took place during the early 16th century, when this drinking horn bearing his image was created.