Is Saint Christopher still a saint? It’s said that his feast day (July 25) was removed from the universal calendar, but was it? Actually it was not. It was removed from the General Roman Calendar of 1969. Saint Christopher is still liturgically celebrated by the Eastern Catholic Churches and by those churches celebrating the Latin Mass, which follow the General Roman Calendar of 1960.
Saint Christopher is an unnamed martyr who died for Christ either under the Roman Emperor Decius (249–251) or under the Roman Emperor Maximinus II Dacian (308–313). My research leads me to believe that the latter date is accurate.
The Legend of the Christophoros:
The legend is that an evil and gigantic Canaanite man named Reprobus (“reporobate”) was asked by a child to carry him across a river. As Reprobus carried the child, the child became heavier and heavier and nearly drowned the giant Reprobus.
The child revealed Himself as the Christ Child who bore the weight of all the sins of the world, especially those of Reprobus. The evil man repented and was baptized by Christ in that same river. His baptismal name became Christo-Phoros (Christ-bearer) since he ferried the Christ Child across the river.
Christopher is sometimes depicted with the head of a dog, since he was a Canaanite. But the term Canaanite was confused for “canine” meaning “dog.”
The Historical Christophoros:
In my best-selling historical-fiction novel Sword and Serpent (featuring Saint George and Saint Christopher as companions) I follow an alternative history for Saint Christopher that identifies him with the Coptic “Saint Menas.”
Saint Menas is venerated in Egypt and is also said to have carried the Christ Child. He was a Roman solider (like Saint George) who later abandoned the military to live a solitary life of a hermit. The association of Saint Menas with Egypt fits the Roman tradition of “Saint Christopher belonging to the Egyptian “Third Valerian Cohort of the Marmantae.”
Additionally, Christopher and Menas received martyrdom in Antioch, further linking their identity.
My hypothesis is that Menas (from Egypt) was martyred to the north in Antioch. The local Christians were not familiar with him but honored him simply as “he who bore Christ” or “Christophoros” and thus the Antiochian Christians called him “Saint Christopher,” and the Egyptian Christians called him by his actual name: “Saint Menas.”
Saint Christopher in Catholic Novel Format:
I tease out all these traditions in my historical-fiction trilogy Sword and Serpent. In the third novel (Book III: Storm of Fire and Blood; due Christmas 2017), while Saint George and Saint Christopher are in Britain, I have the pagan inhabitants mistaking Saint Christopher for the god Woden for reasons that will be entertaining and apparent if you read the Book II: Tenth Region of the Night.
If you’d like to begin this best-selling “5-star” novel trilogy: Book I Sword and Serpent is on sale today (for the feast of Saint Christopher) for:
(It’s available in Spanish as well: La espada y la serpiente.)
Please grab a copy and enjoy your summer reading! Happy feast of Saint Christopher!
Saint Christopher/Menas, pray for us!
Dr Taylor Marshall