magdeburg cathedral

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SAINT MAURICE 

Pic. 13th Century Statue of Saint Maurice from the Magdeburg Cathedral that bears his name.

Maurice was born in 250 A.D. in Thebes, an ancient city in Egypt near the site of the Aswan Dam. He was brought up in the region of Thebes (Luxor—Egypt) and became a soldier in the Roman army. He was gradually promoted until he became the leader of the Theban legion, formed of 6600 soldiers. Maurice was an acknowledged Christian at a time when the Church was considered to be a threat to the crumbling Roman Empire. Yet, he moved easily in the pagan society of his day.

The theban legion, entirely composed of Christians, had been called from Thebes in Egypt to Gaul (a region of Western Europe) to assist Maximian to defeat a revolt by the bagaudae

The oldest surviving"  image that depicts Saint Maurice as a Black African was carved in the 1240s for the Cathedral of Magdeburg, a strikingly accurate depiction of a contemporary armed knight; there it is displayed next to the grave of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor. Jean Devisse,The Image of the Black in Western Art, laid out the documentary sources for the saint’s popularity and documented it with illustrative examples. The Cathedral of Magdeburg is the first and oldest standing temple honoring the life of St. Maurice. When the new cathedral was built under Archbishop Albert II of Käfernberg (served 1205-32), the relic said to be the head of Maurice was procured from the Holy Land.

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Image via Chris 73/Wikimedia Commons

“One of the major criticisms leveled against the popular but problematic Marvel’s Agent Carter (which just finished up its first season on ABC) is that it lacks black characters,” says writer K. Tempest Bradford. 

The show takes place in New York City in 1946, and to some people that means the lack of diversity makes sense — and it’s only the most recent example in an ongoing conversation/argument about books and other media set in the past — whether it’s the real past or an alternate history — that are missing people of color.


Honestly, I blame Black History Month for this. So often, we focus on history that fits within a narrow range: The civil rights movement, the Civil War, American slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. While those are all important pieces of history to focus on, they are not the whole story — and they lead people who’ve only ever paid attention to black history during February to presume that we did not exist outside of those particular moments in time.

Tempest has some excellent book recommendations that’ll give you a broader perspective on black history – and my favorite tidbit?  There was a black knight of the Round Table: Sir Morien! (That’s him, pictured above – or at least, a statue supposedly of St. Maurice, on Germany’s Magdeburg Cathedral that’s commonly thought to represent Sir Morien.)

Morien is the son of a Round Table knight and an African noblewoman who’s not just some random knight mentioned in passing. No, there’s a long saga written just about his exploits, including how he came to England to search for his father, how he and Lancelot were so well matched in skill that neither could best the other, and how he finally ended up a king in his mother’s native land.

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– Petra