One of the Fourteen Holy Helpers
Feast Day: July 25
Patron of: athletes, couriers, gardeners, ferrymen, fruit growers, fruit venders, motorists, pilgrims, porters, postal workers, railway workers, taxi drivers, travelers,
Invoked against: sudden death, plague, floods, hurricanes, hail
Symbols: carrying the Child Jesus, flowering staff
“You were not only carrying the whole world, you had Him who created the world on your shoulders!”
The Christ Child to Christopher
A standard image in automobiles and taxi cabs, Saint Christopher is an unavoidable presence in modern society. He is the first saint that many nonCatholics come in contact with and his cult has faded and been resurrected over a span of 2,000 years. The stories of Saint Christopher are unique and fantastic. In the West, the story begins with a fearsome giant named Rebrobus.
Born to a tribe in North Africa, Reprobus was so proud of his great physical prowess that he vowed to serve only the greatest king in the world. He put himself in service to a ruler whom he believed to be supreme, but soon noticed that this king trembled and crossed himself at the mention of the devil. Witnessing the king’s fear he realized that a more powerful leader yet reigned. He left the king’s court, found the devil and put himself in his service. One day, while traveling with the devil and his army they saw a cross on the road. The devil abruptly left this path and led them through the desert. When Reprobus saw that the devil was frightened, he demanded to know the reason. “There was a man named Christ who was nailed to a cross,” he was told. “And when I see the sign of his cross, I am filled with terror and I run away!” Reprobus left in disgust and set out to find this Jesus Christ who could make the devil quake in fear. In his travels he came across a hermit who lived besides a dangerous river. This hermit was a known Christian who spent his days guiding travelers over the rushing water. When Reprobus asked the hermit how he could join Christ’s service, the hermit suggested that the mighty giant take on the task of carrying travelers across the dangerous river currents. Reprobus gladly accepted this simple solution. He set up camp near the river and found a long pole to act as his steadying staff in the raging water.
For a few days he carried travelers on his back through the currents. It came to pass that one day he heard the voice of a small child requesting to be carried across the river. He left his shelter but found no one there. He heard the voice a second time and still saw no one. The third time the child called, Reprobus again stepped outside and to his surprise saw a child standing on the riverbank. When the boy again requested to be carried over, the giant easily picked the child up, put him on his shoulders and began walking across the river. To his astonishment, as he neared the heavy current, the child’s weight seemed to increase. As the water grew rougher, the child grew heavy as lead. Engulfed in rapids and struggling to remain upright, Reprobus was sure they would both drown. When he finally reached the other shore, Reprobus put the boy down and admonished him, “My boy, you put me in great danger, and you weighed so much that if I had the whole world on my back I could not have felt it a heavier burden!” To his amazement, the child replied, “You were not only carrying the whole world, you had him who created the world upon your shoulders! I am Christ your king, to whom you render service by doing the work you do here.” The child then baptized him with the water from the river and told him that when Reprobus returned home, he was to plant his staff in the earth. “The next day you will find it bearing fruit as a form of proof of my identity.” The child then vanished. Reprobus returned home and did what he was told. As promised, the next day he found his staff bearing the leaves and fruit of a palm tree. From that day on he took the name Christopher, which means “Christ bearer”.
The story continues, and the powerful message that Christopher’s flowering staff represented converted many to Christianity. The king, threatened by Christopher’s powers to relate to the common people had the humble servant brought before him. The king said that Christopher was a fool to take the name of a crucified man as his leader. If he would denounce Christ, Christopher would be granted entrance into the king’s service, and his life would be spared.. When Christopher refused, the king ordered him tortured and shot with arrows. As four hundred archers aimed at the giant, one stray arrows turned in midair and went through the king’s eye. Christopher told him not to worry. He said that upon his death, the king should rub some of the shed blood into his eye. Vision would be restored. Upon these words, Christopher was beheaded and the tyrant took some of the blood, rubbing it into the injured eye, saying, “In the name of God and Saint Christopher.” When his vision was restored, the king immediately converted to Christinaity, along with those who had witnessed these events.
In the West the story of Saint Christopher is taken as a fable for Christians to teach them to figuratively “bear Christ” in every aspect of their lives. In the East, however, the story differs. There, Christopher was known as a member of a warrior tribe of dog- headed cannibals and traditional Orthodox iconography depicts him as a man with a dog’s head. This is thought to be a literal interpretation of the Greco/Roman tradition of describing all foreigners from outside f the empire as “cannibals” or “dog-headed.” In truth, the historic Christopher was most likely from Berber tribes that resided in Libya. Many speculate he is the same person as the Saint known as Menas who always carried a picture of Christ near his heart. This holy man was martyred in Antioch and then taken to Alexandria to be honored by the Coptic Christians.
Despite the different tales of his origin, Saint Christopher is best-known for his Western roots. His act of healing toward the king, his murderer, and his protection of travelers, led to his adoption both as an intercessor for the sick and for those who are responsible for the safety of others.
Saint Christoper is often grouped with other saints thought to offer intercession of healing Collectively known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers, each of these saints specializes in curing different parts of the body. He was added to this group during the Middle Ages when the Black Plague raged through Europe. At this time paintings of Saint Christopher appeared on the outside of many churches and village public walls because it was thought that anyone who saw his image would be safe from death that day. After the plague had run its course these images became welcome sights to religious pilgrims who found assurance in his protection of them along the road.
In the twentieth century, the cult of Saint Christopher saw great resurgence. As the patron saint of travelers and those who transport people, medallions bearing his image became prevalen, especially with the advent of the automobile.. In the United States this tradition was introduced by European immigrants and became so popular that even manynonCatholics have a Saint Christopher medallion in their vehicle for protection.
Because of his flowering staff Saint Christopher is also the patron saint of gardeners and those who buy and sell fruit. Since he carried and delivered many to safety he is the patron of ferrymen and postal workers. Because he worked in such violent currents, he is invoked against the violence of water such as floods and hail. Being endowed with great strength and physical perfection he is also the patron of athletes. In art, Saint Christopher is always depicted carrying the Christ Child, his staff at his side.
Traveler’s Prayer to Saint Christopher
O Saint Christopher, hear our prayer,
Keep me in your loving care.
Whatever the perils of the way,
Let me not add to them this day.
So to our caution and attention,
We add a prayer for your protection,
And beg God’s blessing on this journey,
That we may travel safely near and far.
From the book “Saints: Ancient and Modern”, Viking Studio, by Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua