Saint Christopher is one of the most popular saints in modern times. Known as the patron saint of travellers, drivers, sailors, storm, bachelors, gardeners, bubonic plague and even toothache, he is one of the saints in the group called “Fourteen Holy Helpers” who were thought to be supportive to help fight a number of different diseases. Saint Christopher is acclaimed by several Christian denominations as a martyr killed in the reign of the 3rd-century Roman Emperor Decius (reigned 249–251) or alternatively under the Roman Emperor Maximinus II Dacian (reigned 308–313).
"Saint Christopher and the Christ Child" by Jan Mandyn (Flanders) Circa 1550 AD
Many legends about him regard him as a Hero and represent him as a giant who, after being converted, devoted his life to carrying travellers across a river. One particular story tells us how a small child asked to be transported one day, and in the middle of the river the child became so heavy that Christopher staggered under the burden, complained of the weight, and was told that he had borne upon his back the world and Him who created it. Hence, Christopher is generally represented in art carrying the Christ Child on his back.
There are several legends about Saint Christopher. We learn from these how Christopher (originally known as Reprobus) lived during the reign of the Roman Empire of Decius (249-251). He was a huge and fearsome looking man and almost 7.5 feet tall. In his youth, he decided that he wanted to serve the greatest and most powerful king in the world. He eventually found a great Christian king who accepted him to his court. One day Reprobus noticed that the king made the sign of the cross whenever he heard someone speak the devil’s name. Upon inquiring about the strange behaviour, Reprobus was told that the king was fearful of the devil and crossed himself as a precaution.
Reprobus was appalled. He proclaimed he had mistakenly believed he was serving the greatest king around, but he discovered the king was afraid of the devil. He now believed that the devil was more powerful and thus set off to find the devil in his quest to serve the greatest, most powerful being of them all. His journey took him through the desert where he encountered a group of atrocious knights. They demanded to know what his mission was. Reprobus replied he was seeking the devil. Upon hearing this, the cruelest of the knights answered that he was indeed the devil. Reprobus happily joined the group. As they journeyed on through the desert they came to a passing with a cross planted in the ground and standing erect and tall. The self-proclaimed devil immediately fled in a different direction. Reprobus demanded an explanation after which the devil reluctantly informed him about Christ who died on a cross and that whenever he saw the cross he was compelled to flee.
Reprobus then realised that this Christ certainly had to be the greatest of them all and set off to find Christ. Shortly afterwards, he met a hermit who could teach him about Christ. Reprobus was eager to start serving Christ, so the hermit gave him a mission. His new mission was to see to it the people could safely cross the river even if it meant carrying them over to the other side. Eagerly and happily Reprobus took on this task and did a magnificent job ensuring that all might cross the river safely. From then on, Reprobus pledged his life to Christ and vowed to serve God’s people along the banks of an untamed river. So he built a hut and set up camp with a new purpose—to be a boatman to the world.
One night he was sleeping in his hut, he was awakened by a voice of a child calling for him to take him over the river. He lifted the child on to his shoulders and walked into the river. It should have been an easy task, but it proved to be the hardest mission he had ever encountered. The child got heavier and heavier as they progressed and at t one point he feared they would both drown. Upon reaching the other side, the child told him that he had not only carried the world on his shoulders, but also Him that had created and made the entire world. Hence, Reprobus became Christopher, the bearer of Christ.
In the days following this incident, Christopher spoke of Christ to all he met. He refused to worship the pagan gods of the city of Lycia (present day Turkey) where he had gone for a mission. It is told that many thousand converted to Christianity and the king did not appreciate what was going on. So he ordered for Christopher to be arrested. Two women were sent to the prison cell with a mission to lure Christopher to sin, having been offered great gifts if they succeeded. The women instead converted to Christianity and consequently, became martyrs for their newfound faith when they were punished by the king.
Christopher also was brutally tortured and beheaded one day. Before dying he advised the king to use Christopher’s blood to heal his wounded eye. The king did as he was told and upon seeing the miraculous results, converted to Christianity as well.
Though the life of this mighty martyr was later questioned by historians, Saint Christopher’s story and his worldwide appeal have proven impenetrable. TravelLers, ferrymen and sailors still wear St. Christopher medals to protect them from troubles while traveling. And they still hold dear his feast day of July 25. Saint Christopher’s emblems are the Christ child, a staff and a tree. The Caribbean island commonly known as St. Kitts, located 46 miles west of Antigua, is officially called St. Christopher’s Island.
Even if not all of the stories about St. Christopher are undoubtedly true, he still serves by reminding people that all Christians are called to be “Bearers of Christ” both in their hearts and in the way they build society. Christ bears us up. (Psalm 68:19), people believe, and that the least they can do is to return the favoUr. To his believers, he bears Christ and allegiance to him will not likely wane. For many, Saint Christopher reminds us that, in our own way, we carry Christ on our shoulders and in our hearts across mighty rivers.
Moreover, for many people, Christopher can do more than give drivers peace of mind on the interstate. As this great ferryman guided the weary across a wild river, his virtues can be a guide for us today.
Like many of us in our youth, Saint Christopher sought riches, notoriety and flash. It took a hermit with a zest for God to turn a stubborn young man into a self-imposed pauper, lacking in wealth but rich in faith. He taught us resilience. Furthermore, Saint Christopher was the epitome of bravery. He battled many undercurrents: the devil who could offer no salvation, an oppressive society that punished people for their faith, a hazardous river that only a giant could cross. He was so brave in the face of adversity that even the weight of the world on his shoulders could not overburden his courage.
Similarly, devotion was one of his many great lessons for us. With supposedly little talent for preaching and fasting, Saint Christopher fell back on his signature gift to serve others: his size. A simple man with a pure heart, he pledged to carry people through danger, turning a seemingly boring task into one of the noblest deeds. When Saint Christopher was imprisoned and killed for his beliefs, like all martyrs, he proved the sincerity of his convictions by dying for them. He sacrificed his life for his faith. His rich faith and deep love for God dwarfed even his legendary size.
Furthermore, Saint Christopher proved his resilience firsthand when a peculiar little boy nearly caused them both to sink. Frightened but faith-filled, the saint showed resilience in task and strength in body, proving that not even inevitable death can do much to drown a buoyant spirit.