Book of Legends - Horace Scudder

The Legend of St. Christopher

There was a mighty man living in the land of Canaan. He was so strong and could carry such heavy loads that he was named Offero, meaning "The Bearer." In those days men born in poverty were wont to join themselves to the rich and noble and serve them; in return, they were cared for all through life by their masters.

Offero was proud of his strength, and said he would serve no one but the greatest king on earth. So he went from one country to another, until he came to one where the king was richer and more powerful than all other kings whom he had seen. Here Offero stayed, and entered the service of this great ruler.

But one day, as he stood by the king in the Palace, a minstrel sang and played. In his song, now and then, he uttered the name of Satan. Every time he did so, the king trembled and made the sign of the cross. Now Offero had never heard of Satan, and he asked the king why he trembled. At first the king made no answer.

"Tell me," said Offero, "or I will leave thee."

"I tremble," said the king, "because I fear Satan. I make the sign of the cross that he may have no power over me, for he is as wicked as he is strong."

"Dost thou fear him?" asked Offero. "Then will I leave thee and seek him, for I can serve no master who is afraid of a greater."

Thus Offero left the king and went off in search of Satan. As he was crossing a great desert, he came upon a mighty being who marched at the head of a vast army. This great one hardly looked at the giant Offero, but as he passed him he asked:—

"Whither goest thou? whom dost thou seek?"

"I seek Satan," said Offero. "I would have him for my master, for he is the mightiest being on earth."

"I am he," said Satan. "Come with me, and thy service shall be easy and pleasant."

Offero joined the army of Satan, and went marching on with it. By and by they came to a place where four roads met, and by the wayside stood a cross. When Satan saw the cross, he turned in great haste, and led his army quickly away.

"Why is this?" asked Offero. "What is this cross? and why dost thou avoid it?"

Satan gave no answer.

"Tell me," said Offero, "or I will leave thee."

Then Satan said:—

"I fear the cross because upon it Christ hung, and I fly from it, lest he destroy me."

Then Offero left Satan and went in search of Christ. After many days he came upon a holy man, and asked him, as he had asked others, where he should find Christ. The holy man began to teach him, and said to him:—

"Thou art right. Christ is the greatest king on earth and in heaven. But it is no light thing to serve him. He will lay great burdens on thee. And first thou must fast."

"I will not fast," said Offero; "for my strength makes me a good servant, and if I fast I shall be weak."

"Besides, thou must pray."

"I know not how to pray, neither will I learn," said the proud giant. Then the holy man said:—

"Wilt thou use thy strength? Find out some broad, deep river, with a swift current, so swift that men cannot cross it."

"I know such a stream," said Offero.

"Then go to it, and help those who struggle with its waters. Carry across on thy broad shoulders the weak and the little ones. This is a good work, and it may be that Christ will be pleased."

Offero was glad to be given this task. He built a hut on the bank of the river, and there he dwelt. Whenever one tried to cross the stream, Offero gave him aid. Truly, he was The Bearer, for he carried many across on his shoulders, so that not one was lost. For a staff he used a great palm-tree, which he plucked up by the roots.

Long he lived in his hut, and great was the help which he gave to travellers. At last, one night, as he was resting, he heard a voice, like that of a weak child, saying:—

"Offero, wilt thou bear me over?"

He went to the bank of the river, but he could find no one. He went back to his hut and lay down. Again he heard the same voice. This happened three times. Then he lighted a lantern, and went out to search the country about. Now he came upon a little child, who begged him:—

"Offero, Offero, bear me over to-night."

He lifted the child and placed him on his broad shoulders; he took his stout staff and began to cross the flood. But all at once the winds blew, the waves rose, and there was a roaring in his ears, as if the great ocean were let loose; the weight on his shoulders bore him down more and more, until he feared he should sink. But he held firmly to his stout staff, and at last reached the other bank, and placed his burden safely on the ground.

"What have I borne?" cried Offero. "It could not have been heavier if it had been the whole world."

Then the child answered:—

"Thou didst wish to serve me and I have chosen thee as my servant. Thou hast borne, not the whole world, but the king of the whole world, on thy shoulders. That thou mayest know who I am, fix thy staff in the earth."

Offero did so, and, lo! out of the bare palm-staff sprang leaves, and among the leaves were rich clusters of dates. Then Offero knew that it was Christ whom he had borne, and he fell down at his feet.

Offero now was in the service of Christ, and not long after he went to Samos, where the heathen were killing the Christians. A man struck him, but the giant only said:—

"I am a servant of Christ. I cannot strike thee back."

He was bound with chains and taken to Dagnus, king of Lycia. So mighty was the giant that Dagnus fainted with fear when he saw him. When Dagnus came to himself, he asked the giant:—

"Who art thou?"

"My name," he said, "was Offero, the Bearer, but now I serve Christ. I have borne him on my shoulders. For this I am now called Christ-offero, the Christ-Bearer."

Thus it was that Christopher won his name, and because he was true to his name he is called St. Christopher.