The Meaning of the Saint Christopher Medal
The legend of St. Christopher is a story that has been passed down through the ages, and like any good legend, there’s a fair bit of mystery involved! As the patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher’s patronage ranges far and wide. From explorers to mariners, drivers to surfers, St. Christopher is one of the most popular heroes of the Faith.
In this article we’ll dive into the story of Saint Christopher, the history and meaning of St. Christopher necklaces, how St. Christopher medals became a staple of surf culture, and the new traditions surrounding St. Christopher necklaces in modern times. The man, the myth, the legend!
The Legend of St. Christopher
'Saint Christopher carrying the Infant Christ' by Workshop of the Master of the Female Half-Lengths, ~ 1525-50 / image via The National Gallery
The most well-known and beloved story of St. Christopher is that he was a man of great physical stature and size (by some accounts, he was a giant) who devoted himself to Jesus by using his strength to help travelers cross a dangerous river. St. Christopher would carry travelers across an impassable river and deliver them safely on the other side.
One day, a child asked to be carried across the raging river. St. Christopher agreed and set out across the river carrying the child on his shoulders. As he began to cross the river, the child got heavier and heavier with each step and it became increasingly difficult to bear the overwhelming weight and navigate the tumultuous river. It was only with immense effort that St. Christopher finally reached the other side and safely delivered the child.
St. Christopher said that it seemed the whole world couldn’t have been as heavy on his shoulders as the child. The child then revealed himself as the Christ Child and told St. Christopher that he had in fact carried the whole weight of the world on his shoulders and Him who created it.
In Greek, Christopher translates to “Christ-bearer” and may refer to the legend of the giant carrying the Christ Child across the river.
There is some mystery surrounding the legend of St. Christopher because, unlike many other saints, he isn’t depicted in the Bible, and many details of his life have been lost -- his story has simply been passed down through storytelling and tradition. So despite St. Christopher being one of the most popular saints, there is actually no certainty that he existed historically.
Whether he truly existed or not, St. Christopher’s story is a powerful one that has become well-known around the world and has stood the test of time.
St. Christopher Through the Ages
Through the nature of the river crossing story, Saint Christopher became known as the patron saint of travelers and a symbol of safe travel and protection. As St. Christopher came to symbolize protection to travelers, many churches placed images or statues of him in prominent locations to be easily seen.
In the Middle Ages, Saint Christopher became one of the most popular patron saints for travelers and this tradition has continued on ever since.
Throughout history, the legend of St. Christopher has been featured in countless paintings and sculptures. Religious concepts were a popular art subject of the Renaissance, so many works featuring St. Christopher’s story were created at this time – some by highly regarded artists such as Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch and Italian painter Giovanni Battista Piazzetta.
Saint Christopher was typically depicted as a man of great stature with a child sitting on his shoulder and a staff in his hand. This imagery has remained constant through the ages and is the same scene that depicts St. Christopher to this day.
The Meaning of St. Christopher Medals
Because St. Christopher symbolizes safe travel, the saint has remained popular in modern times in the form of St. Christopher medals. St. Christopher medals can be in the form of a keychain or simple charm, but the most popular display is worn on a necklace.
St. Christopher necklaces come in many different styles and colors, but the medals always feature a depiction of the St. Christopher legend. The circular medal portrays a large bearded man, typically with a staff, carrying a young child across a river. The outer edge surrounding the scene says “St. Christopher Protect Us” or “St. Christopher Be My Guide.”
Followers of the Catholic faith wear St. Christopher medals to show their devotion to the saint and for protection during travels. But you don’t have to be Catholic to take part in this tradition! The necklaces have come to represent adventure and overcoming obstacles, and are worn as a talisman for safety.
Many types of people and backgrounds wear St. Christopher necklaces as a symbol of safe travel and protection. And since St. Christopher saved travelers from a watery death, mariners wore Saint Christopher medals for protection and safe passage at sea.
In the same vein, St. Christopher necklaces are popular with explorers, drivers, and have become a staple for another group of people who love spending time in the ocean -- surfers.
The Original Surfer Necklace
St. Christopher was a popular saint for many folks growing up in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s and one group in particular took a special liking to the St. Christopher medal. In California during the ‘60s, surfers started wearing St. Christopher necklaces and they quickly became a staple of classic surfer style.
The surfer uniform of the 1960’s included a Pendleton shirt, St. Christopher necklace, sun-bleached hair, and an epic tan. Surfers wore St. Christophers for protection in the ocean and gave the medallions to their boyfriends and girlfriends as a sign of going steady.
For over 50 years, St. Christopher necklaces have remained a symbol of connection to the ocean, and of the carefree beach life of the ocean-loving folks who wear them.
Get Back St. Christopher Necklaces
The tradition and meaning of St. Christopher medals lives on today. The medals are popular with travelers, surfers, sailors, and people of the Catholic faith who look to St. Christopher for protection -- but again, you don’t have to be Catholic to wear a Saint Christopher necklace! Really anyone and everyone can take part in the St. Christopher tradition and the beautiful meaning behind it.
While the tradition of St. Christophers have remained strong, new traditions have also started to emerge. At Get Back Necklaces we’ve been making St. Christopher necklaces for over twenty years and along the way we’ve cultivated a stoked community of awesome humans who love the St. Christopher medals as much as we do. We’ve been keeping the tradition of the surfer necklace alive, so our necklaces are very connected to the ocean, traveling, and the beach lifestyle.
One of our favorite new traditions is giving St. Christopher necklaces as best friend necklaces! This is just one awesome tradition that organically evolved in our happy little community :)
"My best friend gave me my first St Christopher and I wear it everyday. I get tons of compliments but I don't wear it because of that- I wear it because it's my little reminder that the world is a huge place and the obstacles that pop up day-to-day are so small! It keeps me positive." -Bella S.
Here are a few other new traditions with Get Back St. Christophers:
- Wear for good luck
- Wear for a little extra protection surfing or in the water
- Exchange with a fellow traveler
- Exchange with your best friends
- Pass down from generation to generation
- Pass along to someone you meet and really connect with
- Pass on to a stranger
- Hang from your rear view mirror
- Stash in nature for someone else to find!
Whether you keep a St. Christopher in your car or it’s your ever-present travel companion, St. Christopher necklaces are sure to bring the good vibes with you wherever you go!