Sunday, November 22, 2009

Art for Today

Carving of Saint Christopher crossing the river. East Netherlandish (Limburg); about 1520. (Oak; h. 56.5 cm)

Almost nothing is known about Saint Christopher, other than the fact that he lived in the third century and was killed during the reign of Emperor Decius. In 1969, the Catholic Church removed his feast day, mostly because everything we know about him is legend. The story goes that Christopher was a Canaanite who wanted to serve the greatest king there was. He saw the king of Canaan cross himself when hearing the devil mentioned, so he sought to serve the devil. The closest he could find was a robber who claimed to be the devil, so Christopher served him until he saw the robber go out of his way to avoid a cross, and then he decided to serve Christ. It's sort of an amusing story. He was lucky that the robber didn't go out of his way to avoid stepping in anything in the road!

Anyway, Christopher found a hermit who suggested that he serve Christ by shepherding travelers across a dangerous river, which he did for some time. One day, he is carrying a small child across the river and, suddenly, the child becomes very heavy and the river swollen, and he barely makes it across. He tells the child that he was afraid because the child seemed to weigh as much as the world. The child replies, "you had on your shoulders not only the whole world, but him who made it. I am Christ, who you serve by this work." The child then vanished.

These stories actually come from the Middle Ages, but remain quite popular today. Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, which is why you'll often see Saint Christopher medals in cars and other vehicles.

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