St. Christopher Symbols

Saint Christopher shown wering a baptismal robe and holding a cross. Saint Christopher Symbol of the man with a dog head.

Symbols of St. Christopher

The artistic commonly accepted symbol of Saint Christopher comes to us from the Golden Legend written by Jacobus de Voragine in the thirteenth century. The legend follows St. Christopher through several journeys in life, to the time he settles at a river's edge. He was an exceptionally large and strong man and his way of serving God was to help people safely cross the dangerous river. The legend has it that one day he carried the Christ Child across the river, which is the basis for the symbol of St. Christopher with a palm tree staff in hand, a child on his shoulders, walking in turbulent water.

The Orthodox Church has quite a different St. Christopher symbol, for sure based more upon reality. Roman emperor Diocletian in 303 issued a decree to persecute all Christians throughout the Roman empire. A member of his own personal guard, George by name, declared himself a Christian and refused to cooperate in the persecutions. Diocletian was enraged and ordered that George be tortured and killed, and this was carried out publically, ended by George's (later St. George) decapitation. St. Christopher was a Roman army officer who witnessed this outrageous persecution, so he went to emperor Diocletian threw down his sword and boldly confessed that he was a Christian also. Diocletian likewise tortured St. Christopher and he was eventually burned to death.

The Orthodox church St. Christopher symbol is depicted with him in a Baptismal robe and holding a cross, signifying he was baptized in his own blood.

One of the more humorous St. Christopher symbols is the depiction as a very tall giant with the head of a dog. This bizarre symbol still circulates to this modern day. St. Christopher was a Liberian by descent from what was then called Marmarica and is current day Libya. He was captured in war by the Romans, brought to present day Syria and assigned to the emperor's personal guard. At that time the Greeks and the Romans sometimes took literature literally. They believed that people from beyond their known world were cannibals, dog-headed men and other wild beliefs. Descriptions of St. Christopher's martyrdom used these descriptions, meaning people from other places than the Greco-Roman world, and somehow over time the St Christopher Symbol evolved as a giant human body topped by a dogs head.