Zwickau honors St. Maurice (ca. 1560)

The scholar Jean Devise has traced the earliest uses of a Moor or a Black figure in heraldry to Bavaria, the upper Rhineland, and Lower Saxony in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The use in family and institutional crests at this time most likely reflected the spread of the imagery of the Hohenstaufen emperors, as in St. Maurice and the Black Magus, in which Black figures stood in for the universalist pretensions of the Church and the Empire.

From the early fifteenth century, in the context of increasing conflict against Muslims in the Iberian, Balkan, and Anatolian peninsulas and in the context of European maritime exploration and participation in global trade, including in African slaves, Black figures began to take on more fantastical, exotic, and degrading features. In this period Black figures became a more common heraldic feature across the German lands.

Zwickau’s patron saint is St. Maurice, and around 1560 he was added to the city crest. Unusually, he was included not as a fantastical figure nor as a noble savage but rather as a Black soldier swinging a mace. The image below shows the Town Hall of Zwickau, recently renovated, which features its impressive crest above its main entrance.

Jeff Bowersox


Source: Concord, “Zwickau Rathaus Wappen” (2011), Wikimedia Commons.

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