Today is the feast of Saint Christopher (Greek: Ἅγιος Χριστόφορος), well-known patron of travelers even though his veneration only appears late in Christian tradition, and did not become widespread in the Western Church until the Late Middle Ages, (although churches and monasteries were named after him by the 7th century). There is also some doubt as to whether Saint Christopher actually existed since what little we know about him mirrors the lives and legends of others. Legends associated with the life and death of Saint Christopher first appeared in Greece and had spread to France by the 9th century. The 11th-century bishop and poet, Walter of Speyer, gave one version, but the most popular variations originated from the 13th-century Golden Legend.
According to the usual account of his life, Christopher was initially called Reprobus. He was a Canaanite, 5 cubits (7.5 feet (2.3 m)) tall and with a fearsome face. While serving the king of Canaan, he took it upon himself to go and serve “the greatest king there was.” He first served the Canaanite king who was reputed to be the greatest, but one day he saw the king cross himself at the mention of the devil. On thus learning that the king feared the devil, he departed to look for the devil. He came across a band of marauders, one of whom declared himself to be the devil, so Christopher decided to serve him. But when he saw his new master avoid a wayside cross and found out that the devil feared Christ, he left him and enquired from people where to find Christ. He met a hermit who instructed him in the Christian faith. Christopher asked him how he could serve Christ. When the hermit suggested fasting and prayer, Christopher replied that he was unable to perform that service. The hermit then suggested that because of his size and strength Christopher could serve Christ by assisting people to cross a dangerous river, where many died in the attempt. The hermit promised that this service would be pleasing to Christ.
After Christopher had performed this service for some time, a little child asked him to take him across the river. During the crossing, the river became swollen and the child seemed as heavy as lead, so much so that Christopher could scarcely carry him and found himself in great difficulty. When he finally reached the other side, he said to the child: “You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.” The child replied: “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.” The child then vanished.
Christopher later visited Lycia and there comforted the Christians who were being martyred. There he was brought before the local king but he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. The king tried to win him with riches and by sending two beautiful women to tempt him. Christopher converted the women to Christianity, as he had already converted thousands in the city. The king ordered him to be killed. Various attempts failed, but finally Christopher was beheaded in Antioch.
The details of the martyrdom of Saint Menas correspond to the details of the legend of Saint Christopher, so some historians argue that the two saints are one and the same with the name “Christopher” (“Christ-bearer”) simply being a title given to Menas who died in Antioch. Saint Menas happens to be the patron of travelers in the Coptic tradition, which further supports an association with Saint Christopher who is the patron of travelers in the Greek and Latin traditions. Part of Saint Christopher’s story closely parallels that of the Argonaut Jason, who carried across a raging river an old woman who was likewise described as being far heavier than she should have been and was actually the goddess Hera in disguise.
St Christopher medals are pretty standard stuff for travelers as well as car ornaments and the like.
This recipe for St Christopher soup comes from the French monastic tradition. It is vegan and relatively simple to make. The original recipe calls for marinating the cabbage in lemon juice then adding both the cabbage and marinade to the broth. This tends to make the soup more sour than many like so I have changed the recipe slightly. Red cabbage is like litmus. The acidity of the lemon juice keeps its nice red coloring. Make sure that your vegetable broth is hearty. You can, of course, use chicken or beef broth if you choose.
St Christopher Soup
8 cups vegetable broth
½ medium red cabbage
½ cup lemon juice
salt and pepper
Shred and then mince the cabbage coarsely.
Place the cabbage in a ceramic bowl with the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Marinate for at least an hour. If you like you can gently pickle it by marinating overnight.
Bring the broth to a simmer in a stainless steel pot. Strain the cabbage and add it to the broth. Simmer for about 5 minutes only. You want the cabbage to be al dente.
Check the seasoning. If need be, add back more of the marinade to suit your tastes.
Serve hot or cold.
Serves 6 to 8