Most of us are accustomed to think of St. Christopher
when we hear the expression "patron saint of travel".
This might be partly due to childhood memories of days when automobiles
had metal dashboards and it seemed almost every other vehicle
had a 4 inch plastic statute of St. Christopher magnetically held
to the dashboard. This patron of travelers gets his patronage
from a thirteenth century legend about a giant man. This man lived
alone along the bank of a raging river. He would help travelers
cross the raging river in safety, so it happened one day he helped
a small child traveling alone to cross. Thus was derived the universally
accepted imagery of the patron saint of travel carrying a small
child on his shoulders as he crosses a turbulent river. The legend
has it the child Jesus is the one on his shoulders beingprovided
safety in his travels. This legendary figure was supposedly based
upon a giant man who lived in the fourth century. Slight problem
: the facts about the life of this giant are obscure to the point
question has arisen if he ever existed. The situation is that
St. Christopher the patron saint of travel might be a legendary
story about a person that never existed.
This might be discomforting to learn of the situation, however
despair not. Did you know there are at least 23 other patron saints
of safe travel recognized by the Catholic Church? Let us take
a minute to look at a few, some straightforward and one very unusual
but historically documented. We save that for last.
What about the ladies? Do we have one or more who is considered
the patron saint of travelers?
First there is St. Brigid of Ireland who lived in the
fifth century. Stories, legends, persecutions, undocumented miracles,
etc. constitute much of what today is considered "history"
so actual documented facts can be scarce. Her father was a pagan
chieftain and her mother was a Portuguese slave. Her pagan father
resisted her wish for a vocation to the religious life. Brigid
gave generously to the poor, both local and travelers, that came
to her father's door. This continually angered her father and
the final such event was when Brigid gave away his jeweled sword.
Her father relented and allowed Brigid to enter a convent and
become a nun. Providing for needy travelers is the reason St.
Brigid is a patron saint of travel.
St. Bona of Pisa is another patron saint of safe travel.
As a child she had a vision of Jesus, Virgin Mary and three saints,
was frightened and ran off. Saint James the Greater, one of the
three, led her back to the vision and thus she became a life long
devotee to Saint James. There is some dispute but mostly agreement
that the remains of St James are buried in Northern Spain. St.
Bona of Pisa led nine 1,000 mile pilgrimages from Pisa to Northern
Spain and back involvingthousands of pilgrims. The safe passage
of the pilgrims on each journey was attributed to St. Bona and
she is honored to this day as a patron saint of safe travel.
St. Joseph of Cupertino's life story is odd to say the
least, but he lived in early 1600's so there is written history
not far removed from present day. Joseph was extremely slow witted
despite trying very hard to learn. He had an unusually strong
love of God since childhood and joined a friary in his early twenties.
Joseph apparently suffered from vaguely defined absence seizures
wherein his facial expression froze, his month gaped open, and
his eyes were unresponsive. The mention of the name Jesus or Mary
when he was in such a state caused St. Joseph of Cupertino to
soar in to the air and hover for minutes. This is the reason he
is the patron saint of air travel for the millions who soar in
to the sky (aircraft) every year.
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