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About 3km south of Bex, at the point where the narrowing of the Rhône prompted the Romans to build a bridge, is ST-MAURICE, named after the warrior-saint Maurice who is purported to have been martyred nearby. Maurice was ordered in 287 AD by Emperor Maximian to serve against his fellow Christians on campaigns in Gaul, but refused, according to a later chronicler with the words: “We are your soldiers, O Emperor, but we freely acknowledge that we are also the servants of God … To you is due military obedience, but to God, justice … We cannot take up arms to strike pious men, civilians … We are ready to submit to torture. We declare ourselves Christians.” The Emperor duly had the whole legion slaughtered. Today, of course, mighty Maximian is forgotten, while there are apparently 4 cathedrals, 598 churches and 74 towns around the world named after Maurice, not counting two entire countries (Mauritius and Mauritania).
Abbey of St-Maurice (©_OTV)
A shrine grew up around the supposed tomb of the saint, hard up against a rocky cliff on the banks of the Rhône, as early as 390, replaced by a monastery in 515; this is still in existence as the oldest surviving abbey north of the Alps. Pilgrims have come to the abbey church for over 1500 years, bringing with them items of gold and silver as homage, and the church treasury holds some exquisitely beautiful pieces, including a Roman sardonyx vase, the intricate gold cloisonné Casket of Teuderic, a breathtaking embossed silver bust of St Candidus and filigreed silver Arm of St Bernard, and other medieval golden caskets and reliquaries of the highest workmanship. Note that although the church is open at any time, you can only visit the treasury on guided tours (in English; Tues–Sun: July & Aug 10.30am, 2pm, 3.15pm & 4.30pm; Easter–June, Sept & Oct 10.30am, 3pm & 4.30pm; Nov–Easter 3pm; Fr.2).