Reliquary bust of Saint Gregory

The move to glorify black heros manifested itself widely in the Holy Roman Empire in the 15th century. St. Maurice had been restored to a place of honor in Magdeburg and what followed was a diffusion of the image toward the east and north. Cologne seemed to have resisted, going its own way and giving preference to a different historic black hero – St. Gregory the Moor.

Gregory was the leader of a division of the Roman Legion consisting exclusively of Christian Moors. He died a martyr when his entire legion was killed in Cologne by order of Diocletian. Gregory is often represented as a knight, and sometimes – as is the case with this bust by Hermann Kessel held in the Catholic Church of St. Gereon in Cologne – as a moor with turban, often holding a flag and shield.

The figure of Gregory was modeled on the black Maurice but had a much lower profile. The celebration of the three Kings and Gregory in Cologne instead of St. Maurice, signals a clear resistance to the imagery coming out of Magdeburg around the same time.

Julia Alcamo


Hermann Kessel, Reliquary Bust of Saint Gregory
Germany (1683)
Polychrome and Gilded Wood, 53 cm.
Köln, Katholische Pfarrkirche St. Gereon. Treasury.

Source: The Image of the Black in Western Art Research Project and Photo Archive, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, available from MedievalPOC.