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.