St. Mauritius: Patron of Christian Soldiers Everywhere
It’s time for another edition of Drinking with the Saints, blog posts that typically show up when I’m rather at a loss for words. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll remember previous posts dedicated to Lammas Day and St. Genesius. Where do I get my material? One of my favorite wine-influenced books, Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour by Michael P. Foley, which light-heartedly suggests libations to coordinate with the special days of the saints. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s looking for a creative cocktail party theme. So, back to St. Mauritius . . . .
A native of Thebes (near Luxor in modern-day Egypt) Mauritius entered the military at a young age and, adept as he was, quickly climbed the ranks until he was named commander of the Christian Theban Legion. One day Emperor Maximian, whose subjects were getting a little rowdy in the streets of Gaul, called up the Legion for some support in putting down the rebellion. “Sounds good,” Mauritius said, “We’ll be there in a couple of weeks.”
As the Theban Legion stormed into town, Mauritius realized that they had been tasked with attacking not just Rampaging Gauls, but Christian Rampaging Gauls. He refused. (If you suspect this was unwise, you’re on to something.) Emperors don’t particularly enjoy insubordination, and Maximian was no exception: he ordered his own soldiers to execute one of every ten Thebans, hoping to bring Mauritius around to his way of thinking. No dice. Mauritius didn’t budge. (Spoiler Alert!) Maximian had every last Theban executed.
The site of the Theban Legion’s last stand, then called Argaunum, lies in what we now know as the Valais area of Switzerland. Perched along the sunny banks of the Rhône River, it has been dubbed the “California of Switzerland,” and memorials to St. Mauritius (Saint Maurice in French) abound. The Abbey of Saint-Maurice was founded in 515 AD and boasts a stunning goldsmiths’ collection offered as a tribute to the local saint, whose martyrdom is celebrated every September 22nd. It is also a resting point for pilgrims making the voyage between Canterbury and Rome on the Via Francigena.
So let’s toast to St. Mauritius/Saint Maurice, and remember the day he told Emperor Maximian to “take this job and shove it.” If you can find a Swiss wine, awesome! If you’ve got one, chances are it’s white and made from Chasselas, the local white grape. They can be quite tasty, and, at their best call to mind the village wines from Chablis. I’ve tasted only one Swiss red and, to put it bluntly, I wasn’t bowled over. (You can read more of my experience with Swiss wines here.) In lieu of a proper Swiss wine, grab a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, red or white. Heck, if you’re in the mood for pink wine, get one of those. After all, the Rhône Valley is just across the river from Valais – a mere stone’s throw away.