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September 22 is San Maurizio’s Saint Day, so of course there is a procession here in San Maurizio di Monti, and lots of other celebration too.  But who was he?  According to Wikipedia there is some disagreement about the veracity of the tale.  However, it is said that he was a general at the head of the legendary Theban Legion, which operated in Mesopotamia during the third century CE.  Later Emperor Diocletian sent the legion to Gaul to subdue both barbarians arriving from the north and a rebellious local population.

Diocletian’s successor, Emperor Maximian ordered the legion to persecute and kill the local population of Valais, whom he felt were not being loyal to Rome.  Many of this population had converted to Christianity, and the Legion was also Christian; they refused to murder their fellow believers.  Now it gets really bloody.  Maximian, angered by this  mutinous behahavior, ordered a decimation of the Legion, that is, one of every ten soldiers was to be beheaded.  After this gruesome punishment he again ordered the killing of the Valais population.  Again the Legion demurred and a second decimation ensued.  Still they refused to kill their fellow Christians.  This time the furious Maximian ordered that the entire remaining Legion be killed.  This extreme punishment was carried out in what is now Saint-Maurice-en-Valais, in Switzerland (by whom I couldn’t discover).  As general of this steadfastly Christian legion Maurice, or Maurizio here in Italy, is the one who became a saint.

He is usually depicted with a sword and, here in Italy, with a red cross.  He is the patron saint of the Alpini, the incredibly brave and strong Italian Alpine military group.  And he is depicted as either black or white.  He is assumed to have been born in Egypt, and was perhaps Nubian.

Nubian San Maurizio, painted between 1517 and 1523 by Matthias Gruenewald

Nubian San Maurizio, painted between 1517 and 1523 by Matthias Gruenewald

White San Maurizio

White San Maurizio painted in 1580 by El Greco

The celebrations in San Maurizio di Monti included the usual food stand, music and dancing for two evenings.  As well we had our very own fireworks display.  The serious part of the celebration took place in the late afternoon on September 22.

The Rapallo Band gave a short band concert before the celebratory mass, including some pretty snappy numbers.  Here are a couple of shots of the piazza in front of the church during the concert:

Note the red cross on the flag.

Note the red cross on the flag.

The band plays

The band plays

Red motorcycle in front of tablets commemorating war dead.

Red motorcycle in front of tablets commemorating war dead.

When the church was gussied up for the second millenium the portrait of San Maurizio over the door was repainted.

Goofy San Maurizio

Is it just me, or does he look kind of goofy? At the very least he looks like he has a very good secret.  That’s one of his faces in San Maurizio.  The other is much more serious, and can be seen on the statue that is the central part of the procession through town (‘through town’ is a grand way of saying the procession leaves the church, marches up the road about 400 meters to a fork in the road, turns around and marches back to the church for the conclusion of the mass).

Older photo taken in 2007.

Older photo taken in 2007.

On the statue Maurzio’s expression seems wistful – perhaps he would like to get out in the air more than once a year.  You can see a short video of the procession going from the church (with prayer) here, and another of it returning (with music) here.

He is our mystery saint, black or white, goofy or sad – like the rest of us, he’s… complicated.