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Saint Christopher

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Saint Christopher, Patron Saint of Safe Travel, holding the Infant Jesus aloft as he fords a running river
Saint Christopher, Patron Saint of Safe Travel, holding the Infant Jesus aloft as he fords a running river

Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. He is petitioned to prevent car, train, and airplane accidents and has long been appealed to for the protection and safety of those in transit. He is also known as the "surfer's saint" because he protects those who travel on the water. Many people carry St. Christopher amulets on their persons or in their vehicles at all times. In slightly differing forms, Christopher is recognized in both the Roman Catholic Church, where his feast day is celebrated on July 25th, and in Eastern Orthodox churches, where his feast day is May 9th.

As with many other early saints, little is known about Christopher's actual life. Roman Catholic accounts claim that Christopher was a Canaanite warrior named Reprobus who converted to Christianity and was eventually martyred by beheading at the command of the Roman Emperor Decius in the 3rd century. The most famous story told about him was that he carried a small child across a rushing river. At each step the child grew heavier, and he was thus discovered to be Jesus Christ, who bears the heavy weight of the sins of all the world. As a reward for carrying him, Christ caused the staff of Saint Christopher to sprout with new leaves, and when it was stuck into the ground, it grew into a living tree. Because Reprobus had carried the Christ Child, he was henceforward known as Christopher, which in ancient Greek means "Christ-carrier." In Eastern Orthodox traditions, Christopher's legend is somewhat different. According to those accounts, he was a soldier serving under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. When Diocletian began persecuting Christians, one of his own soldiers admitted to believing in Christ, upon which he was tortured and killed. Witnessing this event, another soldier, named Christopher, similarly confessed his faith in Christianity and suffered the same fate. Most accounts agree that Christopher was a big, strong, man who assisted those who were weaker and in need as an act of devotion to God.

Christopher is commonly depicted as a large man with dark, densely curly hair who wears classical-era robes. Leaning on a long wooden staff, which sometimes is shown as sprouting new leaves, he is carrying the infant Jesus across a rushing river. The baby Jesus typically holds a globe of the world in one hand, surmounted by a cross. A palm tree in the picture may signify that Christopher lived in North Africa. In some depictions Christopher's robes are white and blue; in others he wears a red baptismal robe and holds a cross signifying that he was baptized in his own blood. In older images St. Christopher was occasionally depicted with the head of a dog, symbolic of the fact that he was not Roman by birth, but a native of Marmarica, in present day Liberia. The dog head was an ancient Roman xenophobic symbol expressing the belief that non-Romans were cannibalistic and literally dog-headed.

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