Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St Maurice of Thebes at the V&A

I was at the V&A yesterday. After a particularly good latte in the staggeringly elaborate 19th Century Arts and Crafts cafe (designed by Morris, Marshall and Faulkner Ltd for the Museum's 19th Century launch) I went to have a look at a wooden statue at the end of the room.

It was in a slightly romanticized figure in a suit of armour and was an early 16th century depiction of St Maurice. I am hopeless at saints, so it was no surprise that I had never heard of him, and although many of you may know of him others, like me, may not. I thought that he might be of interest to those interested in the Roman period of Egypt. The photograph on this post comes from the V&A's website.

The label said that he was the leader of the Theban Legion in Egypt, and that the Roman Emperor Maximian had ordered the entire legion to be killed because they refused to kill innocent Christians.

I had never heard of a Theban Legion, so I had a potter around Google when I got home after a very long and cold day. The story of St Maurice was preserved by St Eucherius, Bishop of Lyon (c. 380-449) and sure enough "Theban" refers to Thebes, as in Luxor. St Maurice (Mauritius) was one of a number men who led the army on its march to Gaul to defeat rebels in Burgundy, during which campaign they were ordered to intimidate/kill a group of local Christians. The legend says that the legion refused to harm the Christians and as a result they were martyred in stages, being completely eliminated by AD 286. Many of those martyred are saints although St Maurice is the most widely venerated. In the Coptic version he is a black Christian who came from Thebes, depictions of him often show him as black and the V&A label says that the face was probably painted in accordance with this convention.

You live and learn.

This is a very crude summary and there's a much better description on the copticchurch.net website.

1 comment:

Andie said...

Pour vous Andie:

Le lieu du martyre de St-Maurice:

puis /annonces/Cop'ticurieux/Carte postale/Abbaye de Saint-Maurice d'Agaune

Meilleures salutations,