Encyclopedia Britannica – Saint Christopher

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Christopher by Ott Frères, 1911; church of Saint Laurent, Verrière, France; photographed in 2012 by Ralph Hammann; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Saint Christopher (Christophorus, Christoferus), a saint honoured in the Roman Catholic (25th of July) and Orthodox Eastern (9th of May) Churches, the patron of ferrymen. Nothing that is authentic is known about him. He appears to have been originally a pagan and to have been born in Syria. He was baptized by Babylas, bishop of Antioch; preached with much success in Lycia; and was martyred about A.D. 250 during the persecution under the emperor Decius. Round this small nucleus of possibility, however, a vast mass of legendary matter gradually collected. All accounts agree that he was of great stature and singularly handsome, and that this helped him not a little in his evangelistic work. But according to a story reproduced in the New Uniat Anthology of Arcudius, and mentioned in Basil’s Monologue, Christopher was originally a hideous man-eating ogre, with a dog’s face, and only received his human semblance, with his Christian name, at baptism. Most of his astounding miracles are of the ordinary type. He thrusts his staff into the ground; whereupon it sprouts into a date palm, and thousands are converted. Courtesans sent to seduce him are turned by his mere aspect into Christians and martyrs. The Roman governor is confounded by his insensibility to the most refined and ingenious tortures. He is roasted over a slow fire and basted with boiling oil, but tells his tormentors that by the grace of Jesus Christ he feels nothing. When at last, in despair, they cut off his head, he had converted 48,000 people.

The more conspicuous of these legends are included in the Mozarabic Breviary and Missal, and are given in the thirty-third sermon of Peter Damien, but the best-known story is that which is given in the Golden Legend of Jacopus de Voragine. According to this, Christopher—or rather Reprobus, as he was then called—was a giant of vast stature who was in search of a man stronger than himself, whom he might serve. He left the service of the king of Canaan because the king feared the devil, and that of the devil because the devil feared the Cross. He was converted by a hermit; but as he had neither the gift of fasting nor that of prayer, he decided to devote himself to a work of charity, and set himself to carry wayfarers over a bridgeless river. One day a little child asked to be taken across, and Christopher took him on his shoulder. When half way over the stream he staggered under what seemed to him a crushing weight, but he reached the other side and then upbraided the child for placing him in peril. “Had I borne the whole world on my back,” he said, “it could not have weighed heavier than thou!” “Marvel not!” the child replied, “for thou hast borne upon thy back the world and him who created it!” It was this story that gave Christopher his immense popularity throughout Western Christendom.

MLA Citation

  • “Saint Chrisopher”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 January 2020. Web. 11 May 2021. <>