St.Maurice and Luther

For only one year Hans Luder sends his fourteen year old son Martin – it is 1497 –  to the cathedral school attached to the St. Mauritius abbey founded in Magdeburg back in 937 AD. Another reason to look a bit closer at the legendary saint Mauritius/Moritz of the church dating back to the 3rd century.

He was an Egyptian commander the Theban legion in the Roman army in a time, when Christianity was still very much persecuted and under duress by the heathen authorities in Rome.  When the Roman emperor…

Maximian ordered them to harass some local Christians, they refused. Ordering the unit to be punished, Maximian had every tenth soldier killed, a military punishment known as decimation. More orders followed, the men refused as encouraged by Maurice, and a second decimation was ordered. In response to the Theban Christians’ refusal to attack fellow Christians, Maximian ordered all the remaining members of his legion to be executed. The place in Switzerland where this occurred, known as Agaunum, is now Saint-Maurice, Switzerland, site of the Abbey of St. Maurice

Saint Maurice became a patron saint of the German Holy Roman Emperors. In 926, Henry the Fowler (919–936), even ceded the present Swiss canton of Aargau to the abbey, in return for Maurice’s lance, sword and spurs. The sword and spurs of Saint Maurice were part of the regalia used at coronations of the Austro-Hungarian emperors until 1916, and among the most important insignia of the imperial throne. In addition, some of the emperors were anointed before the Altar of Saint Maurice at St. Peter’s Basilica.

In 929, Henry the Fowler held a royal court gathering (Reichsversammlung) at Magdeburg. At the same time the Mauritius Kloster in honor of Maurice was founded. In 961, Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, was building and enriching Magdeburg Cathedral, which he intended for his own tomb. To that end, in the year 961 of the Incarnation and in the 25th year of his reign, in the presence of all of the nobility, on the vigil of Christmas, the body of St. Maurice was conveyed to him at Regensburg along with the bodies of some of the saint’s companions and portions of other saints. Having been sent to Magdeburg, these relics were received with great honor by a gathering of the entire populace of the city and of their fellow countrymen. They are still venerated there, to the salvation of the homeland…

Maurice is traditionally depicted in full armor, in Italy emblazoned with a red cross. In folk culture he has become connected with the legend of the Holy Lance, which he is supposed to have carried into battle; his name is engraved on the Holy Lance of Vienna, one of several relics claimed as the spear that pierced Jesus‘ side on the cross. Saint Maurice gives his name to the town St. Moritz as well as to numerous places called Saint-Maurice in French speaking countries. The Indian Ocean island state of Mauritius was named after Maurice, Prince of Orange, and not directly after Maurice himself.

Wikipedia: St. Moritz / Maurice

Today there are many reminders of the holy martyr St. Maurice (Moritz) in churches, schools, cities (Coburg) and even Pope Benedikt XVI included him in his emblem. I wonder, if Martin Luther thought much about this venerated Saint from Africa – the holy St. Maurice? Perhaps not much as a teenager in Magdeburg, but perhaps some more when in 1530 he sat it out on the Coburg, whilst the rest of the Lutheran vanguard stood up for the Christian faith at the diet of Augsburg.  

More than 7x Luther preached in the unfinished chapel of St Maurice during the holy week of Easter – and I´m sure, this faithful man from that great continent would have encouraged his pressured faith very much like our Lord and master must have been encouraged and strengthened by the African Simon from Cyrene, who helped him carry his cross on that last stretch to Golgotha, where finally he was pierced by that holy lance, supposedly later on belonging to that very St. Maurice! Well, it is true, what Luther confessed with his lovely Confitemini:

“I will not die, but live, and I will proclaim what the Lord has done!”

Psalm 118:17

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Gedankensplitter, Histories, biographies and other stories, Martin Luther and the Reformation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to St.Maurice and Luther

  1. Steve Kukuk says:

    Thank you so much for your postings — this one really made me stop and reflect on the sufferings of those faithful Christians who have gone before us down through the ages. It makes our poor sufferings seem to be nothing. Blessings to you. Hope to see you again.

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