St. Christopher, Martyr

July 24, 2020

The Pastor's Page

St. Christopher is a highly revered saint even though the information about his life is more legend than fact. For centuries he had a prominent place on the General Roman Liturgical Calendar with a feast day on July 25, but it was removed in 1969 because there is not enough credible historical evidence to support it. St. James the Greater, apostle and martyr, is celebrated on July 25, while an optional memorial to St. Christopher is allowable on the same day. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates St. Christopher’s memorial on May 9.

St. Christopher

St. Christopher, Salamanca Cathedral in Salamanca, Spain. Father Michael Van Sloun

Christopher means “bearer of Christ.” He was born in Palestine around 220 AD, the son of a blacksmith, and was martyred in Lycia in southern Asia Minor in 250 AD at the age of thirty during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius who reigned from 249 to 251.

According to legend, St. Christopher was a huge muscular man. Some considered him to be a giant. He lived as a hermit along a riverbank. The river had a swift current and travelers were afraid that they would be swept away if they attempted to cross on their own. St. Christopher was so strong that he could withstand the force of the water, and he would place travelers on his shoulders and carry them safely to the other side.

One stormy night a small child asked St. Christopher for this service. Once the child was perched safely upon his shoulders, he began to ford the swollen river. The child grew heavier and heavier as he went. The weight became almost unbearable. He feared that he might drown. When Christopher reached the opposite shore, he asked the child, “Who are you, that you placed me in such peril? It seemed like I was carrying the whole world upon my shoulders.” The child replied, “You not only carried the world, but him who made it. I am Jesus Christ the King.” The child added, “If you would like proof, plant your staff here in the ground.” The next morning the staff appeared as a palm tree with leaves and flowers, and it produced dates. After this miraculous encounter, St. Christopher spent the rest of his life preaching about Jesus.

St. Christopher is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints that was very popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. The saints were approached for intercessory help for the physical ailments like headaches, stomach aches, and fevers, and serious maladies like cancer, tuberculosis, and epilepsy. People turned to the saints for protection from temptation, storms, lightening, the plague, and sudden death. People turned to St. Christopher for safety on their travels and for protection from harm. During Medieval times people believed that if they would gaze upon a statue or painting of his image before noon, they would be spared death that day.

In religious art, St. Christopher is usually portrayed as a giant-like man with the Christ-child on his shoulders, with a walking staff in his hand, as he forges his way across a raging river.

St. Christopher is best known as the patron saint of travelers. In the Twentieth Century his patronage was expanded to also include motorists. It is common for car owners to place a St. Christopher medal somewhere in the vehicle, often hanging from the rearview mirror or clipped onto the visor on the driver’s side. He is also the patron saint of bus, truck, and cab drivers, ferry boat operators, porters, sailors, those with epilepsy, toothache sufferers, and he is invoked for protection from the plague and sudden death.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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