Saint Christopher, Martyr

Saint Christopher, Martyr

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July 25

Today is the feast day of Saint Christopher.  Ora pro nobis.

(Greek christos, Christ, pherein, to bear. Latin Christophorus, i.e. Christbearer).

The legend says: A heathen king (in Canaan or Arabia), through the prayers of his wife to the Blessed Virgin, had a son, whom he called Offerus (Offro, Adokimus, or Reprebus) and dedicated to the gods Machmet and Apollo. Acquiring in time extraordinary size and strength, Offerus resolved to serve only the strongest and the bravest. He bound himself successively to a mighty king and to Satan, but he found both lacking in courage, the former dreading even the name of the devil, and the latter frightened by the sight of a cross at the roadside.

For a time his search for a new master was in vain, but at last he found a hermit (Babylas?) who told him to offer his allegiance to Christ, instructed him in the Faith, and baptized him.  He then took the name Christophorus (Christopher).

Two great Saints refer to the wonderful achievements of St. Christophorus. St. Ambrose mentions that this Saint converted forty-eight thousand souls to Christ. St. Vincent Ferrer declares that when the plague devastated Valencia, its destructive course was stayed through the intercession of St. Christophorus.  St. Christophorus is usually called St. Christopher. He is the patron of travelers, especially motorists, and is invoked in storms and tempests.

The existence of a martyr St. Christopher cannot be denied, as was sufficiently shown by the Jesuit Nicholas Serarius, in his treatise on litanies, “Litaneutici” (Cologne, 1609), and by Molanus in his history of sacred pictures, “De picturis et imaginibus sacris” (Louvain, 1570). In a small church dedicated to the martyr St. Christopher, the body of St. Remigius of Reims was buried, 532 (Acta SS., 1 Oct., 161). St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) speaks of a monastery of St. Christopher (Epp., x., 33). The Mozarabic Breviary and Missal, ascribed to St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636), contains a special office in his honour. In 1386 a brotherhood was founded under the patronage of St. Christopher in Tyrol and Vorarlberg, to guide travellers over the Arlberg. In 1517, a St. Christopher temperance society existed in Carinthia, Styria, in Saxony, and at Munich. Great veneration was shown to the saint in Venice, along the shores of the Danube, the Rhine, and other rivers where floods or ice-jams caused frequent damage. The oldest picture of the saint, in the monastery on the Mount Sinai dates from the time of Justinian (527-65). Coins with his image were cast at Würzburg, in Würtemberg, and in Bohemia.

His statues were placed at the entrances of churches and dwellings, and frequently at bridges; these statues and his pictures often bore the inscription: “Whoever shall behold the image of St. Christopher shall not faint or fall on that day.” The saint, who is one of the fourteen holy helpers, has been chosen as patron by Baden, by Brunswick, and by Mecklenburg, and several other cities, as well as by bookbinders, gardeners, mariners, etc. He is invoked against lightning, storms, epilepsy, pestilence, etc. His feast is kept on 25 July; among the Greeks, on 9 March; and his emblems are the tree, the Christ Child, and a staff. St. Christopher's Island (commonly called St. Kitts), lies 46 miles west of Antigua in the Lesser Antilles.

St. Christopher, Martyr
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

The Roman Martyrology, today, honors also St. Christopher, who received the crown of martyrdom about the middle of the third century. He was born and educated in idolatry, but no sooner had he embraced Christianity, than he zealously strove to convert others to the true faith, and labored especially for this end in the district of Lycia. When, on this account, he was arraigned before the heathen judges, he fearlessly confessed Christ. Making him prisoner, they sent two wicked heathen women to him, who by tempting him to evil deeds, should open the way for him to forsake Christianity. But the Saint not only induced them by his exhortations to change their conduct, but also converted them to the Christian faith; which so enraged the judge, that he ordered the Saint to be tormented most cruelly.

Perceiving, however, that the Saint remained constant under all kinds of martyrdom, and by his example converted a great many heathens, the tyrant at length ordered him to be beheaded. This Saint is generally represented as of a gigantic stature, with a budding staff in his hand, carrying Christ, in the form of a lovely child, across a river. The cause of this is, that St. Christopher possessed a very tall figure, and one day, while expounding the truth of the Gospel to the heathens, he fixed a withered stick into the ground, which, to testify to the truth of his teachings, immediately began to bud. It is also told of him that his desire to assist his neighbor induced him to make his dwelling for some time by a river, and to carry travelers across to the opposite shore, as there was no bridge. While employed in these deeds of kindness, Christ Himself appeared one day to him, in the form of a lovely child, desiring to be carried over the river. The Saint took Him upon his shoulder, and carried him to the opposite shore, where the Saviour, making Himself known, filled the heart of His faithful servant with inexpressible joy.

There have been in the last few centuries, some who, wickedly desiring to tarnish the glory of the Saints, dared to assert that St. Christopher never existed. Several learned men, however, have, by their powerful arguments, silenced this erroneous statement. It is an established fact, that this holy Martyr was already honored by the whole Christian world, more than a thousand years before Luther. There are several convents and churches which were founded in his honor. It must here also be remarked that the Catholic Church by no means approves of the superstition practiced by some weak-minded persons; as, for instance, to say the so-called Prayer of St. Christopher, in order to find hidden treasures or to receive money from the Saint. It is known that, in our time, some who practised this superstition were punished by a just judgment of the Almighty in a terrible manner, by a sudden death. (1)

Image: Triptych of Willem Moreel, central panel (4)

Research by ED Masters, REGINA Staff

  1. http://catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com/St.%20Christopher.html
  2. http://www.catholictradition.org/Saints/saints7-16.htm
  3. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03728a.htm
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Memling_070.jpg

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