1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maurice, St

MAURICE [or Mauritius], ST (d. c. 286), an early Christian martyr, who, with his companions, is commemorated by the Roman Catholic Church on the 22nd of September. The oldest form of his story is found in the Passio ascribed to Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, c. 450, who relates how the “Theban” legion commanded by Mauritius was sent to north Italy to reinforce the army of Maximinian. Maximinian wished to use them in persecuting the Christians, but as they themselves were of this faith, they refused, and for this, after having been twice decimated, the legion was exterminated at Octodurum (Martigny) near Geneva. In late versions this legend was expanded and varied, the martyrdom was connected with a refusal to take part in a great sacrifice ordered at Octodurum and the name of Exsuperius was added to that of Mauritius. Gregory of Tours (c. 539–593) speaks of a company of the same legion which suffered at Cologne.

The Magdeburg Centuries, in spite of Mauritius being the patron saint of Magdeburg, declared the whole legend fictitious; J. A. du Bordien La Légion thébéenne (Amsterdam, 1705); J. J. Hottinger in Helvetische Kirchengeschichte (Zürich, 1708); and F. W. Rettberg, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands (Göttingen, 1845–1848) have also demonstrated its untrustworthiness, while the Bollandists, De Rivaz and Joh. Friedrich uphold it. Apart from the a priori improbability of a whole legion being martyred, the difficulties are that in 286 Christians everywhere throughout the empire were not molested, that at no later date have we evidence of the presence of Maximinian in the Valais, and that none of the writers nearest to the event (Eusebius, Lactantius, Orosius, Sulpicius Severus) know anything of it. It is of course quite possible that isolated cases of officers being put to death for their faith occurred during Maximinian’s reign, and on some such cases the legend may have grown up during the century and a half between Maximinian and Eucherius. The cult of St Maurice and the Theban legion is found in Switzerland (where two places bear the name in Valais, besides St Moritz in Grisons), along the Rhine, and in north Italy. The foundation of the abbey of St Maurice (Agaunum) in the Valais is usually ascribed to Sigismund of Burgundy (515). Relics of the saint are preserved here and at Brieg and Turin.