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In this month of September we would like to share with everyone the exhibition that the Museum of Valladolid, in Castile and Leon (Spain) is holding under the title The Standard of Saint Maurice in the Museum of Valladolid: Relics of Flanders in the court of Spain. 1604. This exhibition seeks to highlight one of the most surprising works of art preserved in its collection. This is a rare processional standard from the early seventeenth century with representations of St. Maurice and another two holy martyrs of the Theban Legion St. Victor and St. Ursus.

– Standard of St. Maurice in the chapel of the Museum of Valladolid.

Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion

According to Catholic belief, St. Maurice was a Roman officer who commanded the Theban (or “Tebea”) Legion, so named because it was made ​​up of soldiers originating from Thebaid, in Upper Egypt, who were Christians. Eucherius, Bishop of Lyon, put in writing in the first half of the fifth century (ca. 440 A.D.) the story of St. Maurice’s martyrdom. This would have taken place about the year 303 near Agaunum (Agaune), now Saint-Maurice, in the Swiss canton of Valais.

– First lines of the Passion of Eucherius (BnF lat. 9550, fol. 081v).

The Theban Legion was called by Emperor Maximian Herculius to reinforce his army during an expedition in Gaul. After having crossed the Alps, the emperor Maximian, who was in Octodurum (now Martigny), gave an order to the Theban soldiers which they refused to comply with because it was contrary to their Christian faith.

– St Maurice and the Theban Legion (BnF lat. 5301, fol. 204r).

According to Eucherius’s account, the legionaries would have refused to participate in the great persecution against Christians. Eucherius quotes the commander Maurice, the officers Exuperius and Candidus, as well as Victor, a veteran who suffered the same fate a little later and two other Legionnaires, Ursus and Victor, who were martyred in Solothurn. Around the year 380 Theodore (St. Theodore), bishop of Octodurum, had a revelation, as a result of which he discovered the remains of the martyrs in Agaune, where he built a funeral chapel for them.

Another text, the author of which is unknown, named Passio Anonima or Passio Interpolata presents some variations of the story: the Theban Legion would have gone to Gaul to suppress a peasant revolt known as Bagaudae, while the crime of the Theban soldiers would have been refusing to participate in pagan sacrifices before the combat. According to this other tradition, their martyrdom would have taken place about the year 286.

 – Primitive Christian Churches at Saint-Maurice of Agaune.

Although Archeology has located the remains of the building built by Theodore of Octodurum at the end of the fifth century which are on the graves of the martyrs in Saint-Maurice, as well as the buildings described by Eucherius in the fifth century; Theodores’s story has some historical problems. Thus, the place of martyrdom and the identification of the legionaries as Thebans (i.e. from Egypt) seem difficult to reconcile. Furthermore, it has been said that the rank attributed to the three commanders seems more likely to be of the Roman cavalry and not of the legionary infantry. However, the circumstances of the discovery (revelatio and invention) fit in perfectly with the habits of the Cult of the Saints with which the bishops of Late Antiquity tried to replace pagan cults.

– Abbey of St. Maurice of Agaune.

The cult of the Theban Legion, whose feast is celebrated on the 22nd of September, experienced several periods of splendour, especially in the fifth-sixth centuries and the ninth-tenth centuries, as well as in the late fifteenth century. At the beginning of the sixth century, the Abbey of Saint-Maurice of Acaunum became the most important sanctuary in the Burgundian kingdom and a second place of worship arose in Saint-Victor, in the surrounding area of Geneva. In Solothurn the commemoration of the saints Ursus and Victor could go back to the fifth century, while the earliest accounts of the martyrdom of the Saints Felix and Regula appear in Zurich at the end of the eighth century. St. Verena is also linked to the martyrdom of the Theban Legion. She is especially venerated in Zurzach (Switzerland).

– St. Maurice in an almanac. 1457 (HAB Cod. Guelf. 1189 Helmst. fol. 186r).

The cult of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion saints spread throughout the course of the rivers Rhone and Rhine towards Gaul and Germany, and across the Alpine passes to the north of Italy. The dynasties of the kings Rudolfings of the Upper Burgundy, the Ottonians (emperors of the Holy German Empire) and the House of Savoy, had a particular devotion to St. Maurice, who in the West was considered as patron of the Holy German Empire and the model of a holy knight.

– St. Maurice on the standard of Valladolid.

The standard of St. Maurice belonging to the Museum of Valladolid.

On its front side, the standard features a large central frame containing the image of St. Maurice. The saint is represented as a contemporary army General, with armour and a helmet with feathered headdress. In his right hand he is holding the baton of Captain General in the Infantry, and in his left hand the palm leaf of martyrdom. An angel is hovering over St. Maurice and the angel is carrying a golden crown in one hand and a crown made of flowers in the other, both linked by phylactery with the inscription SACRA THEBEORUM. On the right of the saint the Ave Maria anagram appears and underneath it is the shield of Pope Clement VIII (born Ippolito Aldobrandini). There are scattered fragments of weapons and armour, recalling the martyrdom of the Theban Legion at his feet.

– St. Victor and St. Ursus on the standard of Valladolid

On the back, the centre frame contains the figures of two beheaded martyrs holding the palm leaves of martyrdom with one hand, while with the other hand they are each holding their own head. The two saints are wearing military attire: helmet, armour, cloak and sword. Two angels are hovering over the figures and both angels are holding crowns over the martyrs’ necks and they are also holding a phylactery where the beginning of the inscription: MARTYR … can hardly be read. Above and below the phylactery, the anagrams of Jesus Christ and the “Ave Maria” can be seen. Behind the figures, a river and herbaceous vegetation hint at countryside. The picture described enables the identification of these two martyrs with St. Ursus and St. Victor and the river which is seen in the background must be the river Aar.

Martyrdom of St. Victor and St. Ursus in Solothurn.

Both sides of the standard show the same border laden with coats of arms and heraldic crests: King Philip III of Spain (Castile and Leon), Queen Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain (Bohemia and Hungary), King Philip’s nephew and heir Philip Emmanuel of Savoy (Prince of Piedmont), the city of Valladolid, the Dominican Order, the Confraternity of St. Mary Magdalene and the Love of God and the anagrams of Jesus Christ and the “Ave Maria”. At the bottom there are five hanging lobes which also contain shields and emblems of Pope Clement VIII, the Duke of Lerma (the Prime Minister and royal favourite), the Cathedral of Valladolid and Juan Bautista of Acevedo (bishop of Valladolid and Grand Inquisitor).

Ocho escudos con las armas de personajes e instituciones relacionadas con la traslación de los cuerpos de los Santos Mártires Tebeos

– Coats of arms contained in the standard of Valladolid.

The procession of the removal of the bodies of the two martyrs of the Theban Legion.

The standard of St. Maurice of the Museum of Valladolid was ordered to be made in 1604 by the Confraternity of St. Mary Magdalene and the Love of God in the city of Valladolid so that it would lead the procession that deposited the bodies of the two Holy Martyrs of the Theban Legion in the Cathedral of Valladolid and in the “Casa Pía de la Aprobación”, an institution linked to the Dominican Order and which was dedicated to aiding  the «arrepentidas” (repentant prostitutes) who had decided to leave their trade and change their lives.

La Casa de la Aprobación en la desembocadura de la Calle del Puente en San Nicolás– The “Casa Pía de la Aprobación”: a foundation to help repentant prostitutes.

In those years (1604), by decision of King Philip III, Valladolid had returned to being the capital of the Spanish monarchy and the king and his family, the great and nobles of the Court, with their retinues and servants, members of the Councils, Court officials, ambassadors, people looking for recommendations … as well as a large number of writers and artists, satellites of the king and of the “magnates” courtiers lived there.

– Procession of thanks to Our Lady of Saint Lawrence.

The bodies of the saints were brought to Valladolid by “Magdalene of St. Jerome” (born Beatriz de Zamudio), one of the ladies-in-waiting of the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II, who received the Netherlands as a dowry when she married her cousin, Archduke Albert of Austria. Magdalene of St. Jerome was a «beata” (pious person). She was a woman who without actually being a nun, had adopted a religious name and lived and acted as such. She founded the “Casa Pía of Santa María Magdalena” (or “de la Aprobación”) in Valladolid. One of her main concerns was to obtain the necessary funding for the institution to fulfil its purpose without strictures or economic worries. For this end she brought a shipment of relics from Flanders that she had been gathering for churches and monasteries in Cologne and Trier, thanks to the special permission of Pope Clement VIII.

Magdalene of St. Jerome delivered one of the bodies of the martyrs of the Theban Legion, along with many other relics to the “Casa Pía de la Aprobación”, thereby seeking to increase the prestige of her foundation and attract the fervour (and donations) of the faithful. The other body was donated to the City of Valladolid which is deposited in the Cathedral, locked in an ark lined with silver.

On the 22nd of September, the day of St. Maurice, the feast of the removal of the holy bodies was held, with a solemn procession. The procession left the Cathedral to collect the bodies from the “Casa Pía de la Aprobación” and then later returned to the Cathedral, stopping in front of the Royal Palace, where King Philip III and Margaret of Austria contemplated the procession.

– Front and back of the standard of St. Maurice of Valladolid Museum.

To announce the event, it is possible that at the beginning of the procession or just in front of the relics, was «the standard of St. Maurice, with a portrait of two Theban saints on the back of it«. The procession was enlivened by kettledrums and trumpets, as well as dance groups from villages which are in the surrounding areas of Valladolid: Tudela, Peñaflor de Hornija, Villanubla, Valdestillas, Cabezon de Pisuerga and Laguna de Duero. The cathedral chapel masters and choirs also intervened and a poetry competition took place in praise of the «holy Theban bodies». Once the procession was finished and the sun had gone down, “figuras” or “invenciones de fuego” (fireworks which were in the shape of figures) were burnt in different parts of the city, which was arranged by the town council. These figures alluded to the story of the martyrs of the Theban Legion.

-The Convent of St. Paul and the Town Council of Valladolid.

Just two weeks after this event Magdalene of St. Jerome asked the city to take charge of the board of trustees of the “Casa Pía de la Aprobación”. Finally, on the 13th of March 1605, the agreement was signed in which the Town Council became patron of this institution, together with the prior of the Convent of San Pablo in Valladolid.

– Route of the procession and location of the new patrons of the «Casa Pia».

In mid-1605, with all issues resolved, Magdalene of St. Jerome returned to Flanders. St Maurice and the Theban Legion had won their last battle.

By Fernando Pérez Rodríguez-Aragón

Curator of the Museum of Valladolid

(English translation by Ceri Mac Manus)

To learn more about the standard:

– Eloísa Wattenberg and Lourdes Amigo, El estandarte de San Mauricio del Museo de Valladolid: Reliquias de Flandes en la Corte de España. 1604, Valladolid: Asociación de Amigos del Museo de Valladolid-Ayuntamiento de Valladolid, 2012. ISBN.: 978-84-940274-0-6 (118 pages).

About the restoration process of the standard:

– Adela Martínez et alii, «Memoria técnica de la Intervención: Estandarte de San Mauricio», in Patrimonio Cultural de Castilla y León. April 9, 2011.

About the Passion by Eucherius of Lyon (BHL 5737-5739):

– Louis Holtz, “La tradition lyonnaise d’Eucher de Lyon et le manuscrit Paris, BNF, Lat. 9550”, Revue d’Histoire des Textes, 3, 2008, pp. 135-200.

– John M. Pepino, St. Eucherius of Lyons: Rhetorical Adaptation of Message to Intended Audience in Fifth Century Provence, The Catholic University of America, 2009.

– To see the first page of the oldest version of the Passion of the Martyrs of Agaune (BNF mss. Lat. 9550, fol. 081v-086r), in the bank of images of the National Library of France. This is an uncial manuscript from the sixth and seventh centuries, from the monastery of Saint-Oyend (now San Claudio in the French Jura mountains) which contains various works of San Euquerio of Lion.

– Text of the Passio Acaunensium Martyrum in Documenta Catholica Omnia.

– List of the different testimonies of the “BHL 5737”  in UCL-Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta.

About the Passio anonyma or Interpolata (BHL  5741):

– Eric Chevalley, La Passion anonyme de Saint Maurice d’Agaune: Édition critique, Vallesia, 45, 1990, pp. 37-120. [pdf on line].

– To see the first page of the oldest version of the Passio Interpolata, (BNF lat. 5301, fol. 204r-207r), in the bank of images of the National Library of France. It is preserved in a tenth century Passionario from St. Martial of Limoges.

– Lista de los diferentes testimonios del texto “BHL 5741” en UCL-Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta.

To learn more about St. Maurice:

– Denis Van Berchem, Le martyre de la légion thébaine. Essai sur la formation une légende, “Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft”, 8, Bâle: F. Reinhardt, 1956.

– Louis Dupraz, Les Passions de S. Maurice d’Agaune. Essai sur l’historicité de la tradition et contribution à l’étude de l’armée pré-dioclétienne (260-286) et des canonisations tardives de la fin du IVe siècle,  “Studia Friburgensia, Nouv. Ser.”, 27, Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires, 1961.

– Donald F. O’Reilly, “The Theban legion of Saint Maurice”, Vigiliae Christianae, 32/3, 1978, pp. 195-207.

– David Wood, “The origin of the legend of Maurice and the Theban legend”, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 45/3, 1994, pp. 385-395 [pdf on line]. Link to a revised version of this article. This author suggests that Bishop Theodorus could have named one of the newly discovered martyrs “Maurice” for political reasons, as one of the general’s who commanded the contemporary Thebans could have been called Maurice too.

– Otto Wermelinger et alii (ed.) Mauritius und die Thebäische Legion. Saint Maurice et la Légion thébaine. Actes du collloque international (Fribourg, Saint Maurice, Martigny – 17-20 septiembre 2003), Fribourg: Academic Press, 2005.

– Nicole Brocard y Anne Wagner, Du nouveau sur l’histoire de l’abbaye Saint-Maurice au Moyen Age d’après les interventions du colloque international Politique, societe et construction identitaire: Autour de saint maurice (Besançon/Saint-Maurice, Valais Suisse – 2009 [pdf en línea].

Photos of the remains with the new roof, designed by Savioz Fabrizzi Architects.

– See the contributions of Alessandra Antonini with the title «Saint Maurice, distr. Saint-Maurice. Abbaye » in the “Chronique des découvertes archéologiques dans le canton du Valais” (François Wible and others) for the years 2001 (p. 312-313), 2002 (pp. 498-502), 2003 (pp. 396-397), 2004 (pp. 480-481), 2005 (pp. 424-427), published in different issues of the journal Vallesia [pdfs on line].

The exhibition is open until 9 December 2012


Opening times:

From Tuesday to Saturday:

10.00 – 14.00 h

16.00 – 19.00 h (from July to September: 17.00 – 20.00 h)

Sundays: 10.00  – 14.00 h.


Plaza de Fabio Nelli, s/n.

C.P.: 47003 – Valladolid (Spain)

To arrange a visit: Tfno: 983 351389

Web Page: