During the first millennium, the first black men who existed were exceptional. Of them all, none was compared to Saint Maurice, a black saint in an area where only a few black lives. He was also a Black knight often referred to as “the shining armor”.
His name Maurice was coined from Latin, meaning “like a Moor.” The Black Saint Maurice (the Knight of the Holy Lance) is known as the great patron saint of the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire. He is also called, especially in Germany, as Saint Mauritius. The foremost history of Maurice accounts can be found in the writings of Bishop Euchenus of Lyons, who lived more than 1500 years ago.
According to the Bishop, Saint Maurice was a high official in the Thebaid region of Southern Egypt, a very early center of Christianity. He was the commander of a Roman legion of Christian soldiers assigned to Africa. By the command of Roman emperor Maximian, his contingent of 6,600 men was sent to Gaul and instructed to suppress a Christian uprising there. Maurice declined the order. Subsequently, he and almost his entire troops were martyred when they chose death e rather than persecute Christians, renounce their faith and sacrifice to the gods of the Romans. The execution of the Theban Legion happened in Switzerland near Aganaum (which later became Saint Maurice-en-Valais) on September 22nd, either in the year 280 or 300.
During the second half of the fourth century, the worship of St. Maurice spread over a broad area in Switzerland, northern Italy, Burgundy, and along the Rhine. The major cities of Tours, Angers, Lyons, Chalon-sur-Saone, and Dijon had centers dedicated to St. Maurice.
By the epoch of Islamic Spain, the stature of St. Maurice had reached immense proportions. Charlemagne, the grandson of Charles Martel and the most distinguished representative of the Carolingian dynasty, attributed to St. Maurice the virtues of the perfect Christian warrior. In token of victory, Charlemagne had the Lance of St. Maurice (a replica of the holy lance reputed to have pierced the side of Christ) carried before the Frankish army. Like the general populace, which strongly relied on St. Maurice for intercession, the Carolingian dynasty prayed to this military saint for the strength to resist and overcome attacks by enemy forces.
In Halle, Germany, a monastery with a school pined to it was discovered and dedicated to St. Maurice in 1184. In 1240, a splendid Africoid sculpture of St. Maurice was placed in the majestic cathedral of Magdeburg — the first Gothic cathedral built on German soil.
A center of extreme devotion to St. Maurice was created in the Baltic states, where merchants in Tallin and Riga copied his iconography. The House of the Black Heads of Riga, for example, possessed a polychromed wooden statuette of St. Maurice. Their seal bore the unique image of a Moor’s head.
In the late 14th century, Ernest built several castles, one of which he named after St. Maurice, the Moritzburg. Under a banner emblazoned with the picture of a Black St. Maurice, the political and religious leaders of the Holy Roman Empire battled the Slaves. The cult of St. Maurice reached its most rich heights under Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg (1490-1545), who pioneered a pilgrimage at Halle in honor of the Black saint.
From 1523 to 1540, different people from the empire journeyed to Halle to pay homage to the relics of St. Maurice. The existence of nearly 300 major paintings of the Black St. Maurice have been catalogued, and presently the veneration of St. Maurice remains alive in various cathedrals in far eastern Germany.