Prayer to Saint Maurice

Saint Maurice, most blessed and honourable patron saint, you who fought so valiantly on the battlefield of faith, steadfastly opposed the tyranny  of earthly rulers, boldly confessed faith in the one true God, and preferred to  die by the sword rather than to betray your Lord, Jesus Christ, pray for us. O holy martyr and loyal soldier of Christ, obtain for us the courage  to persevere in truth, to be a light in the darkness of the times in which we  live, and to defend the honour of the Church wherever it is opposed. Obtain also  for us the grace to endure patiently all the trials and hardships of this life,  and to carry our cross in the spirit of prayer and self-denial. In particular we  ask you to obtain for us from God the following favour. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Sts. Maurice, Exuperius, and Candidus were leaders of a legion of Christians in the Roman army who were killed for their Christian leadership and complete allegiance to Christ. Around the year 287, the Roman army marched out to suppress a revolt in what is now Switzerland. The emperor, Maximian, led the army, which was composed of troops conscripted from various parts of the empire. One legion of 6,600 soldiers was recruited from northern Egypt and was composed entirely of Christians.

When the Roman legions arrived on the battlefield, Maximian ordered all soldiers to offer sacrifice to the gods for the success of the enterprise. The Christian legion withdrew from the army and refused to participate in the rites. Several times, Maximian ordered them to obey. They refused, and he ordered that the other soldiers decimate the Christian legion—every tenth, randomly-selected soldier was executed. Maximian threatened to continue the decimations until the legion obeyed—he warned them he was willing to execute the entire legion.

Maurice, Exuperius, and Candidus led the legion, and they responded to Maximian by saying, “We are your soldiers, but we are also servants of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience, but we cannot renounce God who is our creator and master… We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist because we would rather die innocent than live by any sin.” Maximian ordered the other legions to surround the Christians and kill them all. The ground was covered with bodies and blood, and the other soldiers looted what they could from the slain legion. One soldier, Victor, refused to participate in the massacre and looting. Soldiers asked him if he was Christian. When he answered that he was, he was killed as well.

A shrine was built above the ground where these brave soldiers died, and miracles began to be attributed to the intercession of these martyrs. The traditional story of these martyrs has been scrutinized for its historical accuracy. As there is little supporting evidence for the slaughter of an entire legion of Roman soldiers, the account of the martyrdom has probably been exaggerated. What seems historically likely, however, is that a soldier named Maurice and a number of his companions were martyred in the third century. What remains unknown is the number who were killed; perhaps the story of the martyrdom of a small, brave squadron of Christian soldiers, over repeated tellings over many years, became the slaughter of a legion.

Relics of Sts. Maurice, Exuperius, Candidus, and Victor all rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica. The bust of St. Maurice pictured above stands in the Snite Museum of Art—it is designed to be a reliquary vessel itself, although today it stands empty in the museum’s medieval gallery. St. Maurice is patron saint of the Pontifical Swiss Guards at the Vatican, and also of soldiers, swordsmiths, and weavers. Sts. Maurice, Exuperius, Candidus, and Victor, you faithfully led your legion to martyrdom—pray for us!