Have you ever heard of the custom of taking a St. Christopher’s medal with you on a trip? Or maybe you’ve gotten into a cab or a rental car and found a statue of St. Christopher on the dashboard? That’s because St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, among other things, and travelers all over the world carry a medal or a small statue of St. Christopher to keep them safe from harm and to make sure that they get safely home again. It might seem like a superstition, but if you ask your friends and family you’ll probably be surprised at how many of them carry a St. Christopher’s medal or a small statue of St. Christopher tucked into a jacket pocket or a suitcase on trips. Both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church venerate St. Christopher although each religion has its own feast day for the saint. The historical record says that Christopher was martyred in the third century AD under the Roman emperor Decius. There are not many well known historical facts about St. Christopher except that he did exist and he did die as a martyr under Decius.
St. Christopher is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, which are a group of 14 early saints that are often prayed to as a group for healing from serious illnesses or other serious problems. Praying to these 14 saints is supposed to be more effective than praying to other saints and these 14 are thought to have a stronger connection to God than some other saints. The veneration of these 14 saints started in Germany during the time of the Plague when the people felt like they needed much stronger intercession from the saints in order to keep them and their families safe from illness. Where did the tradition of praying to St. Christopher come from? There are several different sources for this particular Catholic tradition.
There isn’t a whole lot known about St. Christopher because he is one of the oldest recognized Catholic saints and at the time he lived not much of his history was written down. One of the sources says that at one point St. Christopher carried a small but extremely heavy child over a swollen river and that child was actually Jesus, testing St. Christopher. In this particular story because he helped the child travel across the river and watched out for the child he came to be known as the person that travelers would pray to in order to stay safe when they were on a journey. In another version of the origin of praying to St. Christopher to stay safe when far from home comes from the story that St. Christopher traveled to Rome during the period when Christians were being martyred and spent time there comforting those about to die. The local king tried to get Christopher to worship his pagan gods and offered him wealth and beautiful women. Christopher converted the women to Christianity and they were also martyred, as was Christopher himself. The head of St. Christopher along with holy relics from his life were thought to have great power and nations fought over the right to keep them in order to protect their countries. One legend says that the head of Christopher, blessed St. Christopher medals and other relics were taken to the Croatian island of Rab during a siege by the Norman army.
As soon as the relics and medals were placed on the walls surrounding the city the winds began to change and the entire Norman fleet was blown off course and back out to sea. This just strengthened the idea that praying to St. Christopher can help keep you safe. Still to this day it’s quite common for travelers to wear a St. Christopher’s medal when traveling or to carry a small statue of St. Christopher with them. If you know someone that is going on a trip soon or if you are planning a trip you should get a few blessed St. Christopher’s medals or a small plastic St. Christopher statue that can fit into a coat pocket or suitcase to help keep you or your loved ones safe on the trip.
Jim B. Davis
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