Lives of the Saints
Saint Maurice was the captain of the Theban Legion,
a unit in the Roman army that had been recruited
from Upper Egypt and consisted entirely of  
Christians. Although loyal to the Empire (ruled over
by Maximinus Daia and Diocletian), they still
remembered the words of Jesus to render to Caesar
the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God.
During the Bagaude, an uprising of the Gauls,
Maximinus marched against them with the Theban
Legion as a part of his army. The revolt was quelled,
and upon their return to Aguanum (now Saint-Moritz
or Saint Maurice en Valais) in Switzerland,
Maximinus gave the order that the whole army
should give sacrifices to the Roman gods in thanks
for the success of their campaign. As part of the
celebration, Maximinus ordered the execution of a
number of Christian prisoners. The Theban Legion
refused to comply with the order
army so as not to be drawn into what they saw as horrifyingly against their beliefs.
Maximinus repeatedly ordered the Theban Legion to comply with his orders, and
when they continued to refuse, he ordered the unit "decimated," a practice in which
every tenth man was put to death. The Legion was not shaken at all, despite
threats of a second decimation, which was performed. Maximinus told those
remaining that they would all be killed, but their captain, Maurice, inspired them
with the example of the soldiers already martyred, and told them that they were all
assured of a place in Heaven for holding fast to their faith. Every last man was
beheaded by other soldiers, without resistance. Maximinus even went so far as to
carry the executions out against every member of the Theban Legion stationed
elsewhere in the Empire from Gaul down to Rome itself. A number of miracles are
attributed to these holy soldiers. In Zurich, it is said that the beheaded Saints Felix,
Regula, and Exuperantius rose up, and carrying their heads in their hands, walked to
the top of a hill, knelt down and prayed, and finally lay down in final death. On this
spot, a great cathedral was built and the image of the three saints carrying their
heads appears on the coat of arms of Zurich today. Saint Maurice is one of the most
popular saints in western Europe. There are  over 650 sacred places bearing his
name in France alone. Over seventy towns bear his name. In the Middle Ages, Saint
Maurice was the patron saint of a number of the dynasties of Europe and later of the
Holy Roman emperors, many of whom were anointed before the Altar of Saint
Maurice at Saint Peter's Cathedral in Rome. King Sigismund of Burgundy donated
land for a monastery in his honor in 515. Henry I (919-936) ceded the Swiss province
of Aargua in exchange for the Lance of the Saints; and the sacred relic, the Sword of
Saint Maurice, was last used in the coronation of Emperor Charles of Austria as king
of Hungary in 1916.
St Maurice and the Theban Legion