The Sword of St. Maurice

(Type XII)

The Sword of Saint Maurice (Turin) is one of the best preserved 13th century swords. It is a massive sword, surely intended for use from horseback. From our own experience with our recreation, we have found that it is best weilded with the forefinger over the guard.

About St. Maurice

St. Maurice is believed to have been an officer in a legion of Christian soldiers from Upper Egypt during the reign of Emperor Maximian Herculius, circa 287. His legion, Legio Thebiae (Theban Legion), is believed to have been composed of as many as 6,600 Egyptian Christian Copts who had been originally recruited from and stationed in Thebias in Upper Egypt. Maximian transferred the Theban Legion, among other imperial units, to Gaul in an effort to crush a Gaulish revolt. The entire Theban legion was massacred en masse by their own side when they refused to participate in pagan sacrifices at Aaunum, an area of modern Switzerland. The earliest surviving evidence for St. Maurice consists of a letter written during the early 5th century. It names a late 4th century bishop, Theodore of Octodurum, as the discoverer of the relics of St. Maurice and his companions. The fact that St. Maurice is said to have belonged to a legion called the Thebiae, which was stationed in northern Italy in the early 5th century at the latest, suggests that Theodore invented the story of St. Maurice in order to appeal to this legion for political reasons. One possibility is that he had been trying to persuade the legion not to accept the usurper Eugenius as their new emperor in 392.

Saint Maurice is one of the most popular saints in western Europe. There are over 650 sacred places bearing his name in France alone and 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 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 another sacred relic, the Sword of Saint Maurice (Vienna), which served as the coronation sword of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany and Austria, sometimes with parts of Italy) for over 700 years. The Vienna sword was last used in the coronation of Emperor Karl of Austria as king of Hungary in 1916 and is now is kept in the Weltliche Schatzkammer, Vienna . Saint Maurice’s feast day is September 22.

The Sword

Unlike the other sword attributed to St. Maurice that resides in Vienna, the Turin St. Maurice was kept together with relics of the saint. The sword was believed to have been the one used to behead St. Maurice, though it is clearly a 13th century sword. Originally in the Treasury of the Abbey of St. Maurice in the Valois (Switzerland), in 1591 Carol Emanuele I of Savoy transferred the sword, together with half the bones of St. Maurice, to the Royal Chapel at Turin. Since 1858, the sword has been displayed in the Armeria Reale (Royal Armory) in Turin and has the inventory number AR G 25. It is in a very fine state of preservation – looking almost as if it was forged yesterday. The sword is believed to have been made in the first half of the 13th century. Unlike its name-sake in Vienna, this is very much a no-frills fighting sword without any embellishments. The iron pommel is a so-called “Brazil nut” pommel of Oakeshott’s type A. The grip is made of wood covered with thin, brown leather, parchment or possibly even linen, some of which has dried and peeled away during the centuries. The iron cross is of Oakeshott’s style 6, slightly bent-down and with flattened tips. The steel blade is an Oakeshott type XII and has a rather broad (1/3 of the blade width), shallow fuller running about the three quarter’s length of the blade. There are some marks engraved on both sides of the blade: H + H and + H +, respectively.

One reason why the sword is in such a fine condition is probably because it was stored in a special leather case. The case is made of finely tooled and decorated dark brown leather and gesso duro (a type of plaster). It was fashioned in the years 1434-38, which is evident from the style of armor worn by the saint painted on the hilt end of the case. Other decorations are the arms of Savoy, Piedmont and Genoa, and an inscription in Latin: O bone mauricii defende tui cor amici ut nunquam subici laqueis possit inimici. Peter Johnsson says: “Just by being close to this sword, especially since it is not according to contemporary ideas, makes one develop a deeper understanding for what the medieval sword was all about. This is one end of the spectrum. This is one of those totally dedicated, unabashed and no nonsense swords. It is not about finesse, but totally about when and where to use. It´s effectiveness is not being brought out by tentatively chopping the air. It takes a full swing *against a target* to understand what this one is all about. I have been waiting eagerly to see this one completed. Handling the original was one of my finest moments yet. It made a very strong impression on me, having the original in my hand. This sword is not about [aesthetics]. It is just what it is: no prettyfying, just the brutal basics. And still it is not undignified or unevolved. In its own way it is very well planned out and executed. ”

Overall length: 41.38″ (105 cm)
Blade length: 36.13″ (91.7 cm)
Blade width (at base): 2.13″ (5.4 cm)
CoG: 9″ (22.86 cm)
CoP: 21.13″ (53.66 cm)
Weight: 2.96 lbs (1.34 kilos)
This sword is offered in a limited edition of only 1000 collectible swords worldwide.