The Story of the Legion of Theban Martyrs and their Courageous Faith

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Today’s (September 22) saintly feasts are numerous and include Ignatius of Santhia, Lauto of Coutances, Maurice, Sadalberga, Basilia, Digna and Emerita of Rome, Emmeramus of Regensburg, Florentius the Venerable, Irais, Jonas, Joseph Marchandon, Lindru of Partois, Otto of Freising, Sanctinus of Meaux, Silvanus of Levroux, and the Spanish Civil War martyrs to name just a few.

But I wanted to focus on one particular group, the Martyrs of the Theban Legion.

martyrdom_of_st_maurice_and_the_theban_legion-jacopo_pontormo

The story goes that there was a legion of Roman soldiers over 6,500 in number, all of whom were Christians. They were led by Saint Maurice and had been recruited in the region of Thebes in Egypt, hence their appellation.

As an imperial legion, they served the emperor Maximian Herculeus.

In A.D. 287, their orders had them crossing the Alps to a place called Agaunum in modern day Switzerland. The legion, as part of a larger army, was called to quell an uprising by a group called the Bagandre in Gaul, in modern day France. In fact, the entire army was led by the emperor himself.

martyrdom-of-the-theban-legion-stefan_lochner

Part of the duty of the army about to go into battle was to offer public sacrifices to the Roman gods.

As Christians, the Theban legion refused to participate and offer sacrifice. As a result of the refusal, a tenth of the legion was put to death. Asked again if they would offer the sacrifice, the legion again refused. Another tenth of the legion was reduced. Once more the remaining soldiers were asked if they would sacrifice to the Roman gods. They refused once more and having had enough, Maximian ordered the rest of the legion to be executed.

martyrdom-of-theban-legion-relief

Because of their witness, resilience, and their steadfast faith in Christ, they are called martyrs. A basilica was built on the site about 90 years later.

Today there is a shrine in present day Saint-Maurice-en-Valais, Switzerland that houses the relics of the legion.

church-of-saint-maurice-theban-legion

 

What does their example of fidelity to Christ mean for us?

We may never have to die a bloody death for our faith, but the example of their witness to Christ is an example to us all. If we find ourselves in persecution for going against the mainstream or for refusing to do what we know is wrong, we can rely on their story, their lives, and their example to remain steadfast in our love and our own witness for Christ in a world so desperately in need of His hope.

Legion of Theban Martyrs, ora pro nobis!

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