Even if you do not possess a strong Catholic faith, or believe in the advocacy and intercession of saints in heaven, you have likely heard of St. Christopher at least once in your life.
If you watch movies or television, a number of characters whose stories involve travel or a journey of some kind may bear a small medallion of St. Christopher around their necks, reaching down for it as they set off on their trek. Songs and poetry invoke St. Christopher’s name at pivotal narrative moments when luck or good fortune is required. The reason behind all of this is that St. Christopher is said to be the patron saint of travelers, and will bless them as they go down the road on their journey.
Christopher himself is now believed to be only a legendary figure, but his story continues to inspire many around the world.
11 Facts About St. Christoper
#1 Was St. Christopher real?
Legends surrounding St. Christopher were uncovered and circulated between the 6th and 9th centuries. There are no earlier source materials to corroborate his life, and there is no proof that he actually lived. However, the legend has ingrained itself so thoroughly throughout the church that he remains one of its greatest champions and figures.
#2 When did St. Christopher live, and how did he become a believer?
Christopher lived during the 3rd century, originally born with the name Reprobus. He was a giant who wanted to serve the greatest king in the world. After passing up earthly kings, he sought out the devil upon learning that man feared him. When someone claiming to be the devil expressed fear of Christ, Reprobus looked for Christ. He found a hermit that taught him about Christianity.
#3 What miraculous experience is attributed to him?
The hermit told Christopher that he could serve Christ by ferrying people across a dangerous river that could not do so on their own. One day, a child asked Christopher to help him across the river. As he took the child across, the boy felt very heavy on his shoulders. When he finally made it to the other side, the child was revealed to be Christ Himself and told Christopher that he had actually carried the whole world on his shoulders as he crossed. Then the child vanished.
#4 How did he die?
Christopher’s later ministry focused on serving and comforting those who were due to be martyred, or put to death for their faith. When he himself was put on trial before a king, he refused all preferential treatment and even converted those who tried to seduce him to give up his faith. When many conventional means of execution miraculously failed, Christopher was finally beheaded.
#5 How does someone become a saint?
After a person has died, their life is investigated by an official expert authorized by the Church. Their initial report is submitted to the bishop of their diocese and further investigation is performed. They may then submit the individual to the office of the Pope for recognition by the universal church. If this recognition is granted, they will have been venerated by the Church, and are given the title “Venerable.”
The next level involves further research, and if warranted the person is beatified and is given the new title “Blessed.”
The final level of investigation determines whether or not miracles were performed. Proof of at least two miracles performed by God through this person must be verified. Once this is proven, the Pope may canonize this person as a saint through a public proclamation.
#6 What is his patronage?
Some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, recognize certain saints as able to intercede before God in prayer on behalf of those suffering from a particular ailment or to pray on behalf of a certain kind of believer. Others do not believe that saints can intercede on behalf of the living when they die.
St. Christopher is best known as the patron saint of travelers. It is believed that he watches over and intercedes for those that travel, protecting them from danger and illness. He specifically protects against lightning and pestilence, and it is believed that he also intercedes for several common physical ailments. In addition, he has been claimed as the patron saint of numerous locations around the world and is also revered by athletes, mariners, and ferrymen.
#7 Who are the fourteen Holy Helpers?
St. Christopher is recognized as one of the fourteen Holy Helpers. This grouping of saints originated in its current form in the 14th century during the bubonic plague. Fourteen saints were considered particularly effective at interceding for those experiencing the effects of the disease, and they have since been revered as powerful intercessors for believers. Each of the fourteen saints had a physical or spiritual experience that they protected against.
#8 How is St. Christopher honored in the church today?
Because much of St. Christopher’s later ministry occurred in modern-day Turkey, he is quite popular with Eastern Orthodox religion; his feast day is on May 9.
In the Catholic Church, St. Christopher is remembered on July 25. He was at one point honored in all Masses but was removed from the wider church calendar soon after because his commemoration was not of Roman Catholic origin. Despite this lack of official recognition from the papacy, St. Christopher is still very popular among believers.
#9 Is St. Christopher unique?
Actually, there is some debate as to whether or not his life and ministry should instead be attributed to St. Menas, an Egyptian saint. Both men are referred to as “Christ-bearers” (which is the meaning of the name Christopher) and are considered patron saints of travelers.
#10 Is St. Christopher officially recognized by the Church?
Because there is no direct proof of his life, and because most accounts are considered legends and not official biographies, he is not officially recognized by the Catholic Church. However, local and popular tradition has still maintained a devoted following for this saint throughout the centuries.
#11 What is his impact today?
As the patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher is invoked by many around the world. Small medals, or pendants, are worn by travelers who seek his blessing as they make their way, and statuettes can be found in automobiles and other vehicles as a symbol of invoking his protection.
These medals, and other references to St. Christopher, can be found in popular media culture as well. His name is invoked in films, songs, and literature in many formats. Characters frequently bear a medal to St. Christopher as a sign of devotion and piety in their quest. Whether overtly believing or simply superstitious, he nonetheless features prominently in characters who seek a happy end to their endeavors.
As with many early saints in the Catholic Church, there is no direct evidence for the life and ministry of St. Christopher, and many accounts are legendary and unrealistic in their portrayals of him. However, as with similar saints, his following has remained strong over time, and he remains an important figure for a large segment of believers that look to the saints for protection in this life.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.