St. Christopher searches for the most powerful king

Pocket Bard’s notes: This was the very first saint life I adapted for use in the SCA, even before I’d read the account in The Golden Legend. I first read about it in a book called Saints Behaving Badly, by Thomas J. Craughwell, and was surprised when I read the original in The Golden Legend that it matches up so well. I like the idea that you can come to the worship of Christ, even when your intentions are kind of messed up and your path leads you to worshiping the devil first. As I say in the moral of my own adaptation, it means that even those of us who aren’t pure or innocent can still do right in the end.

St. Christopher searches for the most powerful king
The Golden Legend, Volume II, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.10-12

Christopher was Canaanite by birth, a man of prodigious size – he was twelve feet tall – and fearsome of visage. According to some accounts of his life it happened that one day, when he was in the presence of a certain Canaanite king, that the idea came to him of going in quest of the greatest prince in the world and staying with him. He came to a mighty king who was regarded generally as the world’s greatest ruler. When this king saw Christopher, he received him gladly and made him a member of his court.

Then one day the court jester sang some ditty before the king, in which frequent mention was made of the devil. The king was a Christian and made the sign of the cross on his forehead when he heard the devil spoken of. Christopher noticed this, and wondered why the king did it and what the sign meant. He asked the king about it and, when the ruler did not answer, said to him: “Unless you answer my question I will not stay with you any longer!” The king, thus pressed, told him: “Whenever I hear the devil mentioned, I defend myself with this sign, for fear the devil might get some power over me and do me harm!” Christopher: “If you’re afraid of being harmed by the devil, this proves that he is greater and more powerful than you are, or you wouldn’t be afraid of him. Therefore I am frustrated in my hope that I had found the greatest and most powerful lord in the world. So now farewell! I’ll go and look for the devil, accept him as my master, and become his servant!”

Christopher left that king and went in search of the devil. He was going through a desert when he saw a great host of soldiers, and one of them, fiercer and more terrible than the rest, came to him and asked where he was going. Christopher answered: “I’m looking for the lord devil! I want to take him as my master.” The other said to him: “I’m the one you’re looking for!” Christopher was happy to hear this and pledged himself to serve him forever, acknowledging him as his lord and master.

They marched along the highway until they came to a cross erected at roadside. When the devil saw it, he was terror-stricken, left the road, and led Christopher over a wide and desolate tract before returning to the road. Christopher was surprised at this, and asked the devil what made him so afraid that he left the highroad and took another way through a rough wilderness. The devil refused to state the reason, and Christopher said: “Unless you tell me what this is about, I shall leave you immediately!” The demon, no longer able to evade the question, said: “There was a man named Christ who was nailed to a cross, and when I see the sign of his cross, I am filled with terror and run away!” Christopher: “Well, then, this Christ, whose sign you dread so much, is greater and more powerful than you are! Therefore I have labored in vain and have not yet found the greatest prince in the world! So good-bye to you! I’m leaving you and going in search of Christ!”

He looked long and far for someone who could give him word of Christ. Finally he came upon a hermit who preached Christ to him and instructed him diligently in the Christian faith. He said to Christopher: “This kind whom you wish to serve requires that you do his will in many ways. For instance, you will have to fast frequently.” Christopher: “Let him require some other form of obedience! That one I just can’t do!” Again the hermit: “You will also have to offer him many prayers.” Christopher: “I don’t even know what that means, so I can’t perform that kind of service!” The hermit then asked him: “Do you know the famous river, where many people, trying to get across, go under and perish?” “Yes I do!” said Christopher. The hermit: “You’re big enough and strong enough! Go dwell by the river, and if you help those who wish to cross it, that will greatly please Christ the king whom you wish to serve, and I hope he might show himself to you there!” Christopher: Good1 That kind of service I can give, and I promise to serve him that way!”

He went to the river and built himself a shelter to live in. Instead of a staff he used a long pole to steady himself in the water, and carried across all those who wished to go. Many days later he was resting in his shelter when he heard a child’s voice calling him: “Christopher, come out and carry me across!” He jumped to his feet and went out, but found no one. He went indoors and again heard the same voice calling him, but ran out and again saw no one. The third time he responded to the same call and found a child standing on the riverbank. The child begged him to carry him across the river, and Christopher lifted him to his shoulder, grasped his great staff, and strode into the water. But little by little the water grew rougher and the child became as heavy as lead: the farther he went, the higher rose the waves, and the weight of the child pressed down upon his shoulders so crushingly that he was in dire distress. He feared that he was about to flounder, but at least he reached the other bank.

Setting the child down he said to him: “My boy, you put me in great danger, and you weighed so much that if I had had the whole world on my back I could not have felt it a heavier burden!” The child answered him: “Don’t be surprised, Christopher! You were not only carrying the whole world, you had him who created the world upon your shoulders! I am Christ your king, to whom you render service by doing the work you do here. And if you want proof that what I am saying is true, when you get back to your little house, plant your staff in the earth, and tomorrow you will find it in leaf and bearing fruit!” With that the child vanished. Christopher crossed over and thrust his staff into the earth near his shelter. The next morning he rose and found the staff bearing leaves and fruit like a palm tree.


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