St. Christopher, one of the most popular and beloved saints of our time had a twisting journey before he became the famous “Christ-carrier”. Saint Christopher was a man of great size and strength who devoted himself to Jesus by helping travelers cross a dangerous river. Saint Christopher became one of the most popular patron saints for travelers in the Middle Ages.
According to the legendary 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 into his head to go and serve "the greatest king there was". He went to the 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.
Eventually, St. Christopher found a hermit who taught him all about Christ, the King of Kings. The hermit suggested that he spend his life in prayer and fasting, a thing which St. Christopher, a large and probably often hungry man found difficult, he objected. The hermit suggested he then find something else that would please Christ. St. Christopher offered to work at a nearby river, and help travelers across. The fording was dangerous and many with less strength people had drowned. The hermit advised St. Christopher this would please Christ. One day, a child approached St. Christopher by the river and asked to be helped across. St. Christopher obliged. However, as he entered midstream, the river rose and the child's weight grew and became extremely heavy. It was only by great exertion that St. Christopher safely delivered the child to the other side. When questioned, the child declared that he was Christ and that Christopher was thus bearing the weight of the world. Thus, the title “Christ-carrier” was given to him.
Christopher’s later ministry focused on serving and comforting those who were due to be martyred, or put to death for their faith. When he himself was put on trial before a king, he refused all preferential treatment and even converted those who tried to seduce him to give up his faith during the persecution of Emperor Decius. According to Roman Martyrology, when many conventional means of execution, which included shot with arrows and being burned, failed he was beheaded in 251 AD. However, Saint Christopher also did not become popularized in the Church until the 7th century, about three centuries after his supposed death. We know of his popularity because around the 7th century, churches and monasteries began to be named after him. This adds credibility to the supposition that St. Christopher was merely a legendary figure and not a real person. This type of question dogged the traditions of St. Christopher.
Therefore, Christopher was listed as a martyr. His popularity had grown, but there wasn’t enough historical evidence the man ever existed, so Pope Paul VI officially questioned the sainthood of Christopher. Pope Paul VI, therefore, revised the Liturgical Calendar, which includes feast days of the saints that are commemorated during Mass. With this revision, a special commission, or Consilium, investigated the calendar and removed those saints whose historical base was more grounded on tradition than provable fact. Thus, they changed the feast days to coincide with the anniversary of a saint’s death or martyrdom whenever possible, and replaced them with saints who were more recently canonized and who also had universal appeal. However, local bishops could add saints who were popular in their regions to the universal calendar. Furthermore, theologians point out that the Church did not “de-canonize” St. Christopher, or anyone one else. Saints like Christopher and Veronica, despite a lack of historical evidence substantiating their exploits, are still worthy of devotion and prayers.
Christopher is the patron saint of travel and travelers, and the reach of his patronage is wide—from mariners and sailors to mountaineers and drivers. of bachelors, transportation, traveling, storms, epilepsy, gardeners, holy death, and toothache. St. Christopher medals were originally worn by seafaring folk for safe passage, and in the 1960s the medals were lovingly adopted by the surfing community. The strength community, due to his immense size and power, has adopted him as our patron.
His feast day is July 25. Unfortunately, there was no official canonization process in place at the time. Since he was a martyr, he would have been declared a saint by popular acclamation soon after his death. This acclaim is still strong today.