Christopher was associated with St. James the Greater as a patron of
pilgrims and other travelers, the guise in which he appears in Jan van
Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece of 1432. His cult is of eleventh-century
origin but grew to great proportions and universal status during the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries. As one of the fourteen "Nothelfer", or Auxiliary
Saints, he was also honored as a protector against storms and sudden death,
that is, a death without the administration of the Sacraments.
His name, derived from the Greek, literally means one who bears Christ. As described in the late thirteenth-century Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, Christopher bore Christ is four ways "upon his shoulders when he carried Him, in his body by his mortifications, in his mind by his devotion, and in his mouth by professing and preaching Him." A man of great size, Christopher vowed to dedicate his great physical strength to the service of the world’s most powerful Lord. When he saw the Devil cowering before an image of the cross, he dedicated himself to Christ by carrying travelers across a deep stream. Christ, disguised as a small child asked his help and Christopher carried him through the water. The divine presence was revealed as the child grew heavier and heavier. Christopher began to stagger under the great weight of " human frailties" that Christ bears for the human race, but then realized that his faithful service has been rewarded by a visit from God himself.
His representation in typical late-Medieval format is a large man striding calf-deep through a stream. He supports himself with a stout staff and the Christ Child rides upon his shoulder. He wears a short tunic and a cloak about his shoulders. This format can be seen in the in the earliest single leaf prints and the fifteenth-century paintings of Memling and Bouts. A woodcut dated 1423 from the Upper Rhine, the Buxheim St. Christopher, shows the saint dressed in tunic and cloak and carrying the Christ Child who holds the orb, symbol of his power over all creation. In the back is the hermit who advised St. Christopher about his vocation, and in the front the image a traveler, suggestive that this print was a favorite amulet for travelers.