Saint Maurice

Magdeburg Cathedral, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

A larger image of Saint Maurice, Magdeburg Cathedral.

Image source: p176, Gothic Sculpture: 1140-1300 By Paul Williamson

This polychrome sculpture, entirely in the round, represents Maurice, the main patron saint of the Cathedral of Magdeburg, in 13th century armour, his head covered with his camail in golden chain mail.

The sculptor emphasised both the African and warlike aspect of the saint, thus breaking a centuries-old taboo according to which the saints could only be represented as Europeans. His armour is different from French armour, such as that of the knights figured at the portal of the south transept of the cathedral of Chartres. While the crusades had encouraged the development of light military clothing and protection from the heat, the leather breastplate of Saint Maurice, falling in two aprons and probably reinforced with a metal plate on the chest, is of remarkable weight; it is closed in the back by three buckles. The soldiers of the Holy Sepulchre in the rotunda of Saint-Maurice at the cathedral of Constance (around 1260) wear similar armour.

The wide belt of Saint Maurice was once decorated with decorative rosettes. Below, on his belt, hang a short dagger with a faux-shaped quillon on his right, and a sword on his left. The lower limbs, as well as the base, are missing today, as well as some of his weapons. The hole through his fist indicates that the saint was leaning with his right hand folded around a spear. His left hand rested on a shield placed on the left side of the body, as for the statues of the founders in the choir of the cathedral of Naumbourg. His right thigh is outlined slightly under the garment. The saint therefore did not present himself head-on, but in counterpoise, and projected his lance, both weapon and attribute, into the visual field.

The figure of Saint Maurice was life size, according to the measurements of the time.

The polychromy with natural colours heightened the illusion of seeing in front of a living knight.

Although a statue of Saint Catherine forms a pair with this Saint Maurice, it is not known for which part of the cathedral the two sculptures were created. Not having been degraded by the bad weather, it is not likely that they adorned a portal. Likewise, their membership in a rood screen is very hypothetical.

The attribution of Saint Maurice can only be done through stylistic comparisons. The stylisation of his eyes, with the oval of the upper eyelid slightly exaggerated, as well as other clues are as many testimonies of the style of the most recent sculptures of the cathedral of Bamberg. The artist could thus have started work in Magdeburg after the consecration of the Bamberg cathedral in 1237.

Source: Temple de Paris

Referenced on p180, Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era, 1050-1350, Western Europe and the Crusader States by David Nicolle.
461   'St Maurice', carved figure, Brandenburg, c.1250-1300
(Cathedral Museum, Magdeburg, Germany)

Since St Maurice was referred to as 'the Egyptian', he has been given African facial features. This particular carving has, however, attracted attention because it portrays an early example of a coat-of-plates. Over his long-sleeved mail hauberk the saint wears a cloth-covered garment in which the hidden metal splints or lamellae are indicated by two rows of rivets plus additional rivets near the shoulders. Note that this armour lies beneath a separate mail coif. Such an armour would have been laced or buckled at the back. The lower part of the garment consisted of non-protective flaps hanging down at the front and back. The similarity in outline of at least the upper part of this coat-of-plates and the garment seen on the slightly earlier Bamberg Seal (fig.459) is striking. St Maurice's sword is also worthy of comment, being a very short, perhaps broken, weapon with a large polyhedral pommel. It is, however, surely no coincidence that most of the earliest clear and less clear representations of German coats-of-plates are found in or near the eastern half of the country. These regions might have been under Slav or Hungarian influence, but more importantly they had more immediate experience of the armour worn by invading Mongol armies.

Referenced in German Medieval Armies 1000-1300 by Christopher Gravett:
the statue of St. Maurice made in Brandenburg between 1250 and 1300 that shows the saint in one of the earliest representations of a coat-of-plates. The chest shows rivets and even the edges of some of the plates. The coat-of-plates is fastened at the rear with three straps and buckles. The coat-of-plates also has split "flaps' front and back, making it appear similar to a surcoat. It appears almost like a cross between the separate, skirtless coat-of-plates and an "armoured surcoat".

The rear view of the Statue of Saint Maurice, wearing a coat-of-plates, Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany.
The view of the right of the Statue of Saint Maurice, wearing a coat-of-plates, Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany.
The neck and head of the Statue of Saint Maurice, wearing a coat-of-plates, Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany.

A knight of c.1280 in Armies of Feudal Europe 1066-1300 by Ian Heath, based on Saint Maurice at Magdeburg Cathedral.
Other 13th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers