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May 9, 2012

Myths About Saint Christopher


Saint Christopher (May 9) was at first named Reprobus. Seeing the Christians persecuted, he rebuked the tyrants for their cruelty. Soldiers were sent to bring him to appear before the ruler; but he converted them to Christ, and with them was baptized, receiving the name Christopher. After he appeared before the ruler, he was imprisoned and two harlots were sent to seduce him, but he converted them also, and encouraged them in their martyrdom. He was subjected to torments and finally beheaded in the days of Decius.

Many fantastic and mythical things are said about Saint Christopher out of ignorance and superstition, one of which is that it is impossible for one to die suddenly from some unexpected cause on the day on which one looks at the Saint's icon. This is the origin of that proverb that is quoted in various quarters: "If on Christopher thou shouldst gaze, thou shalt safely wend life's ways." The etymology of his name, which means "Christ-bearer," has undoubtedly moved iconographers to depict him carrying the infant Jesus on his shoulders; it is completely erroneous, however, to depict him, as some uninformed iconographers do, having the head of a dog, because of a statement in his life that he was dog-faced, by which is meant only that his countenance was exceedingly frightful to look upon.

Many of these myths of St. Christopher originated with the German bishop and poet Walter of Speyer (967–1027) who portrayed St. Christopher as a giant of a cynocephalic species in the land of the Chananeans (the "canines" of Canaan in the New Testament) who ate human flesh and barked. Eventually, Christopher met the Christ child at a river, regretted his former behavior, and received baptism. He, too, was rewarded with a human appearance, whereupon he devoted his life to Christian service and became an athlete of God, one of the soldier-saints.