Medal of St Christopher

France, early 20th century AD

St Christopher is unlikely to have existed as a historical figure, but neither this nor his demotion by the Roman Catholic Church in 1969 has diminished his enduring popularity as a patron saint of travellers.

By the fifth century AD, St Christopher was venerated in part of what is now Turkey, and his cult subsequently spread throughout Europe. According to the principal legend that grew up around him, he served Christ by carrying travellers across a river, on one occasion carrying a small child who grew heavier as they progressed through the water and who eventually revealed himself as Christ. The name Christopher means 'Christ-bearer' in Greek, and from the thirteenth century the saint was generally portrayed as a bearded giant carrying an infant Jesus, often steadying himself with a staff. The belief that looking at his image would sustain travellers led to his being represented both at a large scale on exterior walls and at a small scale on medals and amulets like this piece.

On one side of this medal is a traditional representation of the saint. On the other is a modern mode of transport - an early motor-car - with a French inscription exhorting the holder to 'Look at St Christopher and travel strengthened'.

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Museum number

CM 1992.1-13.4634

CMC5184

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