Anyone who’s ever sat on top of a mountain and looked down on the vista below knows that travel can often feel otherworldly.
Exploration requires us to put on our boots and backpacks and leave the ordinary behind in search of a greater adventure!
The next time you reach that soaring summit, cross that roaring river or simply head out for an epic road trip, take a minute to pause and thank someone whose name you might not know yet:
Regarded as the Patron Saint of Travel, this Catholic Christian hero’s life is the stuff of legends, with stories and tales that have grown richer and more elaborate over the years.
Never heard of him? Even if his name escapes you, his likeness may feel familiar.
Many avid travellers carry pendants of St. Christopher with them for protection, guidance and fortitude.
Who was this saint and how did he earn his reputation? Read on to discover all the details about his incredible life, his daring pursuits, and even his scandalous past.
Who Was St. Christopher, the Patron Saint of Travel?
According to the history books, St. Christopher was a Christian martyr killed in the 3rd century, under the reign of Roman Emperor Decius.
Before we get to the end of his life, however, let’s start back at the very beginning.
Born in the land of Canaan, many accounts claim that Christopher was originally given the name Reprobus. This name was a derivative of the word “Reprobate”, which means an unprincipled person or a scoundrel.
In other words, though he became one of the most revered figures of ancient faith, Reprobus was originally a barbaric heathen!
His oversized, menacing face was overpowered only by his gigantic size. Standing around 7.5 feet (5 cubits) tall, he stood above most others, and used this height and power to his advantage.
Believing that he was the mightiest giant in his region, the legend goes that Reprobus set out to find a similarly sized master to whom he could be equally matched.
The people and places he encountered on that journey set the course for an incredible life and legacy.
How did this uncivilized giant turn amiable and adored? What led him to become the patron saint for travellers? Let’s trace his massive footsteps to understand.
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The King and The Cross: An Eye-Opening Encounter
Reprobus’ early travels kept him close to home, but what he encountered in his own land was nothing short of transformative…
In his quest to find a master matched in size and stature, the young man soon encountered the King of Canaan. He offered to be of service to the king, who was known far and wide to be one of the most virtuous leaders in the land.
The king was proud to have such a colossal assistant by his side, and kept him close to his courts at all times. It would have been a simple servitude, had one fateful event not occurred.
One day, a medieval singer came to Canaan to meet the king.
He sung many ballads for the nobles, and among them was an ode acknowledging the power of Satan. As Reprobus watched, the king blessed himself, making the sign of a cross over his body at the sheer mention of Satan’s name.
When pressed on why he did this, the king replied that making the sign of the cross eliminated Satan’s power against him.
This is said to have piqued Reprobus’ interest.
If the king feared the power of Satan, then surely Satan must be more dominant than human rulers. He left the court to set off on his next exploit.
This time, he would discover Satan and align himself with an even mightier authority.
The Legend Continues: A Dark Meeting in the Woods
Not too far into this journey, Reprobus met a band of wild men in the forest. And it wasn’t long before he realized these figures were actually Satan and his escort!
He bravely approached the two and explained that he wanted to serve them.
He was accepted and soon joined forces with what he believed to be the mightiest powers on earth. However, it didn’t take long for the shine to fade and reality to set in.
One day, Reprobus was travelling with Satan when they came upon a crucifix. Satan immediately fled the scene, and his companion had questions:
Why had the symbol of the cross frightened him and caused him to run away? Satan explained that it represented his greatest enemy, and that he would always flee from Christ.
As you might imagine, the enterprising giant then turned his sights on another pursuit, his highest and most holy one of all.
A Christian Legend’s Born: Finding God in the Forest
Once again, Reprobus picked up his things and began to wander, fueled only by his passionate spirit and desire for greatness.
Soon, he came to a hut in the middle of the woods. He found an old man sitting by the door, and he stayed to learn his story.
The old man explained that he was a hermit who had left the comforts of the world for a life in solitude, where he could serve Christ intentionally.
Upon hearing this, Reprobus finally realized he’d found what he had been seeking: the strongest and mightiest force in the world.
He asked the man where he could find Christ and the man answered with a notion that many Christians can relate to:
To find Christ is to lose yourself, to offer yourself up fully to his control and sacrifice everything else for His good.
Of course, this news was understandably a little jarring to Reprobus, the power-hungry giant.
He stayed with the old man in the hut and learned his ways. Eventually, the man baptized him and when he did, a spiritual revelation took hold of his heart.
Suddenly, Reprobus wasn’t focused on being enormous in physical strength.
Instead, he desired to be as meek and humble as possible.
He asked the old man how he could best serve God, who had become his new master.
The man instructed him to build a hut by a nearby river, whose choppy waters had long troubled travellers seeking to get to the other side.
He could live there and help carry people across the current on his wide shoulders.
Reprobus did as he was told, and his services became a valuable resource for the men, women and children who often passed through the area.
This one decision helped chart the course for the rest of his life, and turned him into an iconic symbol of faithful obedience.
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From Reprobus to St. Christopher: A Holy Mission Fulfilled
One night, Reprobus heard the small voice of a young boy who needed carrying across the river. He grabbed his staff, lifted him high and set out to make the journey.
Halfway across, everything changed.
The water soared overhead to uncommon heights, and the once-light child grew heavier and heavier.
Reprobus lamented that it felt like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. That’s when the boy revealed himself to be none other than Christ himself.
He declared that from that point forward, Reprobus’ name would be Christopher (or Christophorus), which translates to “Christ-bearer”, for he bore that holy weight fully.
When Christopher reached the other shore, he stuck his staff in the ground.
Blossoms and leaves sprung up in the spot, and Christopher kneeled to kiss them. Though he had been a devoted follower before, he was now in the full service of Christ.
He became an enthusiastic preacher of the Gospel, and led many to the faith.
The Rise & Fall of St. Christopher
In his missionary travels, St. Christopher came to the region of Lycia.
Here, after a particularly inspired message, a staggering 18,000 so-called ‘heathens’ requested to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
When news reached the Roman Emperor Decius, he sent an army of 400 soldiers to kill Christopher. Yet they too converted to Christ-followers after meeting him and requested baptism!
Desperate, Decius threw Christopher in prison, where he was tormented relentlessly.
Soldiers are said to have thrown hot oil on him, placed him on scorching iron plates, and burned fire under him. Still, he kept his faith.
Decius even ordered him shot with arrows, but those had no effect either.
Finally, with nothing else for it, Christopher was beheaded.
A Saintly Scandal: Who Is St. Brendan of Clonfert?
Okay, so if you’re anything like me, the story of St. Christopher might sound somewhat…fanciful.
And indeed, from what I gather, the existence of this intrepid giant is contested in some circles.
That’s why a blog post about the patron saint of travellers wouldn’t be complete without mentioning St. Brendan (also known as ‘St. Brendon the Navigator’), a prominent figure in Irish Christianity.
Born in Ireland around 464, Brendan was a leading monk in his time, denying earthly pleasures in pursuit of a Christ-driven life.
As he spread his message, Brendan often travelled across Ireland and into Europe to establish monasteries and he crossed the Atlantic Ocean!
At one time, more than 3,000 monks lived at the monastery he established in Clonfert, Ireland. Because of his maritime pursuits, many boatmen, sailors and mariners consider him to be their patron saint for travel…not St. Christopher.
While these loyalties might divide some travellers, the two saints are alike in mission and magnitude, making them equally worthy of admiration.
A Modern-Day Traveller’s Faithful Companion
Today, many travellers will carry pendants or images of St. Christopher so the Patron Saint of Travel can bring them success and safety on their journeys. You may find these pendants tucked into backpacks, hanging from necklaces or swinging back and forth from a rear-view mirror.
Wherever they wind up, their mission’s the same: to remind adventure seekers everywhere that greatness and power isn’t found in material wealth or worldly esteem. Peace and contentment aren’t destinations you can reach through riches.
Rather, they’re discovered on the journey itself, and within the drive that calls you to go.
In the end, you can only discover the immense wonders of this world when you passionately seek them. When the waters rise and the fear creeps in and you keep pressing forward anyway, you’ll find that something far better lies on the other shore.
Feeling inspired after this deep dive into the history books? If so, check out these other 20 explorers and their unforgettable stories!