Maurice, the patron saint of the military, infantry, and armorers, is not particularly the most popular saint within the Roman Catholic Church. According to legend, he suffered martyrdom as commander of the Theban Legion in Valais around the year 300, together with thousands of his men.
The devotion to St. Maurice slowly spread North and Northeast, and finally reached the East Frankish Empire, which experienced its heyday under Otto I.
Maurice became the patron saint of the Empire and of the new imperial cathedral in Magdeburg. Together with other martyrs, he stands high on one of the ancient columns in the choir.
All this would not be worth mentioning if the representation of the saint had not fundamentally changed over time. Around the middle of the thirteenth century, St. Maurice – originally represented as a white knight – was changed into a Moor. He allegedly represents the earliest depiction of a black African in post-antique times.
A torso on the southern side of the choir was dated to the mid-thirteenth century, i.e. to the early constructioperiod of the cathedral.
The reason for this change in representation is puzzling, especially since his depiction as a Moor in later artworks – with a few exceptions in southern regions – was maintained.
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)