Hang on St. Christopher
St. Christopher’s Chapel
I recently had one of those travel days. The kind where, thanks to storms and broken planes, it somehow took me 28 hours to get from Los Angles to Richmond. I was giving a lecture on the Italian Cult of the Dead at Virginia Commonwealth University and, little did I know, I could’ve held the lecture in Italy and still enjoyed a shorter travel time.
In the midst of it all, I remembered this small shrine to St. Christopher in Barcelona. It was one of those curious little places that I photographed and meant to write about but somehow hadn’t gotten around to it. So now, with nothing but time in the airport again, I’m getting around to it.
St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers and this tiny chapel is near the old city walls in the Gothic District in Barcelona, by the gate that used to lead to the old port. (And it is tiny. Those doors are maybe 5 feet tall and the room, which was gated off, could only hold a few people comfortably.) People have been (literally) ducking into this chapel to pray for safe travels since 1503 and probably even before that, when this little jewel box was just a road-side shrine.
There are lots of colorful legends about St. Christopher. People say he was incredibly ugly, or even dog-faced, or that he might have been a giant. Here, he’s the big galoot in the center of the center picture. Other legends say he offered to carry a child across a river and the child became heavier and heavier. He began to fear he might drown, until he saw that the child was Christ and the heaviness was from carrying the world on his shoulders. Interestingly, Christopher means “Christ-bearer”, so like Veronica (Vera-icon) his name, which is so common today, was originally indicative of his legend.
In Barcelona, there’s a local twist on this legend that says St. Christopher arrived by boat one day, carrying Christ as a child on his back. He walked up the Rambla and disappeared, but everyone that saw him had good luck all year. This event, which was said to occur on July 10th, is still celebrated in Barcelona, with a blessing of vehicles and a special fruit pastry.