The Saint Of Giants

We all know Saint Christopher, or we should do. He is one of the saints to have broken out into the mainstream, courtesy of his medals. Wear a St. Christopher, and you will go well. He looks out for travellers. As the Spanish say, and this would have been more pertinent in years past than nowadays, thanks to greatly improved road safety, "If you trust St. Christopher, you won't die in an accident".

He therefore enjoys decent popularity among the general public, but in the saintly scheme of things he doesn't have great prominence in Majorca. There are events, such as the Pollensa lorry drivers convoy, and a couple of fiestas - Arenal and Biniali - but otherwise Saint Christopher (Sant Cristòfol) is a fairly lowly figure. And for someone who was supposedly a giant of a man, this doesn't appear to do him justice.

One reason for this may have to do with how the Catholic Church has viewed him. He was, according to the Tridentine Calendar of saints and liturgy, as determined by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, only supposed to be commemorated at private masses. For a brief time from 1954, this was extended to all masses. In 1970, he was dropped from the calendar as his commemoration was not considered to be of Roman tradition.

Local commemorations were unaffected, which was just as well for Biniali, for example. This tiny place in Sencelles has had a parish church dedicated to Sant Cristòfol since 1673, and this church was a factor in Biniali - all of it - having been declared an asset in the cultural interest by the Council of Majorca in 2009. The some 170 or so residents of the village will know that they are subject to certain rules and regulations as a result.

A further reason for Christopher's comparatively minor Majorcan role would seem to owe something to his feast day. The fiestas for him are getting under way, and the main day is the tenth of the month. However, this isn't really how it should be. The church has always gone by the twenty-fifth of July. There again, as the church more or less turned its back on Christopher 49 years ago, it can't complain too much if the feast day isn't strictly observed. And why isn't it? Well, the 25th of the month is reserved for a saint who is right at the top of the saintly league. Christopher can't really hold a candle to Sant Jaume, Saint James the Apostle, Santiago, Spain's patron saint. With Saint James for competition, it is perhaps little wonder that Christopher failed to make a huge fiestas' impact.

There is also the issue as to whether he actually existed. There are numerous saints whose existences have been drawn into question but have done pretty well despite this. Sant Roc, big in Majorca in August, is basically a work of fiction, but as he rid certain villages of the plague, his non-existence has been looked upon benignly. Moreover, and back in the day, dealing with the plague would have been far greater a concern than being killed in a road accident.

For all this, Sant Cristòfol does have his place, and folklore has guaranteed this. According to one old custom, Cristòfol marks the start of the bathing season. A bit late, one would think, but maybe not. A saying which is reckoned to come from Inca goes something like "the sea in flight for Saint Christopher". Inca has no sea, so one guesses that in times past those who could venture to the sea did so when it had got unbearably hot, some time in July. And this raises a question as to what the date was - tenth or twenty-fifth?

There is no debate, it would have been the tenth, and that's because of another item of Cristòfol folklore. It was the day for the bathing season for some but not for everyone. Parents in certain parts of Majorca were inclined to exercise caution. The children could go to the beach but not in the sea. If they did, a terrible fate might await them. A giant, one who had once carried a child on his back across a river - Christopher, the Christ-bearer - would not be able to prevent someone from drowning.

That warning, it has been argued, is rooted in the Majorcan fascination with giants, and it is the giants - those to be seen at many a fiesta - who do perhaps give a clue as to why Christopher should in fact have very much more prominent status in Majorca. The theory goes that the custom of giants in popular island culture has its origins with Saint Christopher. 

Back to list

Back to top