As many people enjoyed my post last week on the story of the man who tricked The Devil, I thought I would post another similar tale which I myself only learned last week.
I was working on a tour and taking some wonderful people around the old Roman city of St. Albans. The city has a long and at times bloody history and despite its wealth of Roman heritage around and about, it is the dramatic Cathedral Abbey of St. Albans which naturally catches everyone’s attention sat as it is high on the hillside.
Whilst I might save the story of this great building and the man who inspired it for another time, during my time in the Cathedral I came across an image of Saint Christopher. Many of us may vaguely know of Saint Christopher and it wasn’t too long ago that many a traveler would wear a St. Christopher medal when going on any sort of lengthy or trepidatious journey. How did this come to be however?
The historical authenticity of Saints varies from Saint to Saint. Some are more or less historically documented, give or take the odd miracle. Others are a little more vague as to how real they were or how many individuals were embodied into the body and story of a Saint.
Saint Christopher is not the best documented Saint. For a start, Christopher is not likely his real name as this means ‘Christ-bearer’.
Saint Christopher is one of the most popular, yet most enigmatic Catholic figures. He is considered a saint, although he is not in the official canon of the saints. He is listed as a martyr, possibly named Reprobus, who died under the Roman Emperor Decius, in 251 AD. He was likely a Canaanite or what today we would refer to as a Palestinian.
According to legend, St. Christopher was extremely tall, and by some accounts he was even a giant! He is referred to as a Canaanite. Christopher decided one day that he wanted to serve the greatest king he could. He presented himself before his local ruler and entered service, until he noticed the king cross himself at the mention of the devil, revealing that the king believed the Devil to have more power.
St. Christopher then decided to serve the Devil. During his search, he encountered a band of thieves, whose leader referred to himself as the Devil. But when this leader avoided a Christian cross out of fear, St. Christopher learned there was someone even more powerful than the Devil.
St. Christopher found a hermit who taught him all about Christ, the King of Kings. The hermit suggested that he spend his life in prayer and fasting, a thing which St. Christopher, a large and probably often hungry man found difficult, he objected. The hermit suggested he then find something else that would please Christ. St. Christopher offered to work at a nearby river, and help travelers across. The fording was dangerous and many with less strength people had drowned. The hermit advised St. Christopher this would please Christ.
One day, a child approached St. Christopher by the river and asked to be helped across. St. Christopher obliged. However, as he entered midstream, the river rose and the child’s weight grew and became extremely heavy. It was only by great exertion that St. Christopher safely delivered the child to the other side.
When St. Christopher asked the child why he was so heavy, the child explained that He was the Christ and when St. Christopher carried Him, he also carried the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. The child then vanished.
Other legends state that St. Christopher traveled after this experience and evangelized thousands of people. Arriving in Lycia in Asia Minor, and witnessing to Christians there who were being martyred. At that time, St. Christopher was detained and ordered to offer a sacrifice to the emperor. When he refused, it was decided to attempt to persuade him with money and women. Two women were sent to seduce him, but instead he converted them to Christianity.
After this, it was decided to have him killed, but various attempts to assassinate him failed. Eventually, he was arrested and beheaded and by the 7th century he was widely thought of as being a Saint despite never having been officially declared as such by the church.