In 1969, St Christopher, patron saint of travellers, was one of many saints to be declared a legend rather than a historical figure by the Catholic Church. But hope still springs in devotees around the world, not least in Goa’s Church of St Christopher, where motor vehicles are blessed on the saint’s annual feast day in July.
The one-time patron saint was celebrated for carrying people across a tumultuous river, with only a staff in hand. One stormy night, he carried a child on his shoulders whose weight seemed to increase with each step he took. The child revealed himself to be the infant Jesus, bearing the weight of the sins of the world. For his kindness, the robust man’s staff was transformed into a tree, and he was renamed “Christopher” or “Christ bearer”, soon to become a beacon for ferrymen, travellers, mariners, and athletes.
The Church of St Christopher in Thivim, Goa, built in 1627, has weathered its share of storms. In 1683, the church and presbytery were torched in the Maratha invasion of Bardez, but the structures were rebuilt within two years. The riverside church is famous for its statues of St Michael, St Sebastian and St Thomas. Locally revered as Sao Cristavo, Christopher’s broad shoulders continue to be sought not just by travellers but also the sick and suffering.
The annual feast of St Christopher is celebrated in the Church of St Christopher in Thivim, Bardez, Goa on the last Sunday in July with masses at 6.45am, 8.15am and 9.30am.