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
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