Gold or silver medallions with St. Christopher's name and image were commonly worn by Italian-Americans as pendants, especially during their voyage to the United States. St. Christopher is a widely popular saint usually depicted as a giant with a child on his shoulder and a staff in one hand.
He is the patron saint of travelers; sailors; ferrymen; motorists and drivers; athletes; archers; bachelors; boatmen; soldiers; bookbinders; fruit dealers; gardeners; market carriers; surfers; mountaineering; and transportation workers. He protects against lightning; pestilence; epilepsy; floods; toothache; and storms. Miniature statues are still displayed in automobiles.
According to the legendary account of his life, St. Christopher was a Canaanite 7.5 feet 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.
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 they were perishing 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 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 the city of Lycia and there comforted the Christians who were being martyred. Brought before the local king, he refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. The king tried to win him by 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 decapitated.
Historical examination of the legends suggests Reprobus (Christopher) lived during the Christian persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius, and that he was captured and martyred by the governor of Antioch. Historian David Woods has proposed that St. Christopher's remains were possibly taken to Alexandria by Peter of Attalia where he may have become identified with the Egyptian martyr Saint Menas. The legend of Saint Christopher records two important historical facts that identify him with the historical Saint Menas. The first is that the Greek and Latin legends of Saint Christopher identify him as belonging to the Third Valerian Cohort of the Marmantae, a military unit of Northern Africa, between modern day Libya and Egypt, recruited by none other than the Emperor Diocletian.
The second is that Saint Christopher was also martyred in Antioch. The martyrdom of Saint Menas corresponds to the details of the legend of Saint Christopher. The theory that identifies the two saints as one and the same concludes that the name "Christopher", meaning "Christ-bearer", was a title given to the name of the valiant Menas who died in Antioch. Since he was not a native of that land, his name was not known and so he was simply revered by his generic title: "Christophoros" or "Christ-Bearer." 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.
It is also worth pointing out that part of Saint Christopher's story closely parallels that of Jason, leader of the Argonauts, who carried an old woman across a raging river: she was likewise described as being far heavier than she should have been and was actually the goddess Hera in disguise.