The Story of St Christopher
From William Caxton’s Edition of the Golden Legend
Transcribed from: HC Whaite, St Christopher in English Medieval Wall Painting, London, 1929
Direct speech marks & paragraphing AM
Here foloweth of Seynt Christofre, and first of his name.
Christofre to fore his baptesme was named Reprobus, but afterward he was named Christofer which is as moche to saye as berying Cryste, of that, that he bare Cryst in iiii maners, he bare hym on his sholdres by conveyeng and ledyng, in his body, by makying it lene, in mynde by devocion, and in his mouth by confessyon and predycacion.
Of Seynt Christofre
Christofre was of the lygnage of the Cananees, and he was of a right grete stature and had a terryble and ferdful chere and countenaunce. And he was xii cubytes of lengthe, and as it is redde in somme histories, that whan he served and dwelled with the kyng of Cananees it cam in hys mynde that he wold seche the grettest prynce that was in the world, and hym wold he serve and obeye. And so ferre he went that he cam to a right grete kyng, of whom the renomme generally was that he was the grettest of the world. And when the kyng sawe hym he receyued hym in to his seruyse, and made hym to dwelle in his courte. Upon a tyme a mynystral song to fore him a song in whiche he named ofte the deuyll, and the kyng which was a Crysten man, whan he herd hym name the deuyll, made anon the signe of the crosse in hys vysage. And whan Christofer sawe that, he had grete merueyle what signe it was,and wherfor the kyng made it.
And he demanded of hym. And bycause the kyng wold not saye, he sayed: “Yf thou telle me not I shalle no lenger dwelle wyth the”, and thenne the kyng told to hym sayeng: “Alleway whan I here the deuyl named I fere that he shold haue power ouer me, and I garnsysshe me wythe this signe, that he greue ne anoye me.” Thenne Christofer sayde to him:
“Doubtest thou the deuyll that he hurte the not? Thenne is the deuyl more myghty and gretter than thou art. I am thenne deceyued of my hope and purpose, ffor I had supposed I had founden the most myghty and the moste grettest lord of the world, but I commaunde the to God, for I wyl goo seche hym for to be my lord, and I his seruaunt.” And thenne departed from this kyng, and hasted hym for to seche the deuyl. And as he went by a grete deserte he sawe a grete companye of knyghtes, of which a knyght cruel and horrible cam to hym and demaunded whider he went, and Christofor ansuered to hym and sayd: “I goo seche the deuyl for to be my mayster”. And he sayd: “I am he that thou sechest”.
And thenne Christofer was glad and bond hym self to be hys seruaunt perpetuel, and toke hym for his mayster and lord. And as they went to gydre by a comyn waye, they fonde there a crosse erecte and stondyng, and anon as the deuyll sawe the crosse he was aferd and fledde, and left the right waye, and brought Christofer aboute by a sharpe deserte. And after whan they were passyd the crosse he brought hym to the hye way that they had lefte. And whan Christofer sawe that, he merueylled and demaunded whereof he doubted and had left the hye and feyr way, and had goon so ferre about by so aspre deserte. And the deuyl wold not telle to hym in no wise.
Thenne Christofer said to hym: “Yf thou wylt not telle me, I shal anon departe fro the, and shal serue the no more”. Wherefor the deuyl was constrayned to telle hym, and sayd: “There was a man called Cryst whiche was hanged on the crosse, and whan I see his signe I am sore aferd and fle fro hit where someuer I see it”. To whom Christofer said: “Thenne he is gretter and more myghtier than thou, whan thou art aferd of his signe, and I see wel that I haue laboured in vayn, whan I haue not founden the grettest lord of the world. And I wil serue the no lenger, goo thy waye thenne, for I wyl goo seche Jhesu Criste”.
And whan he had long sought and demaunded where he shold fynd Crist, atte last he cam in to a grette deserte to an hermyte that dwellyd there, and this hermyte preched to hym of Jhesu Crist and enformed hym in the fayth dylygently and sayd to hym: “Thys kyng whom thou desirest to serue, requyreth the seruyse that thou must oft faste.” And Christofer sayd to hym: “Requyre of me somme other thyng and I shall doo it, for that whiche thou requyrest I may not doo”. And the hermyte sayd: “Thou must thenne wake and make many prayers”. And Cristofer said to hym: “I wote not what it is. I may doo no suche thyng”. And thenne the hermyte sayd to hym: “Knowest thou suche a ryuer in whiche many be perysshed and lost?” To whom Cristofer seyd: “I knowe it wel.” Thenne said the hermyte: “By cause thou art noble and hye of stature and strong in thy membris, thou shalt be resident by that ryuer, and thou shalt bere ouer al them that shall passe there, which shal be a thyng ryght couenable to our Lord Jhesu Cryst, whom thou desirest to serue, and I hope he shal shewe hym self to the.”
Thenne sayd Cristofer: “Certes this seruyse may I well do, and I promyse to hym for to doo it.” Thenne went Cristofer to this ryuer, and made there his habitacle for hym, and for a grete pool in his hand in stede of a staf, by which he susteyned hym in the water, and bare ouer al maner of peple wythout cessyng. And there he abode, thus doyng, many dayes. And in a tyme as he slepte in his lodge he herd the voys of a chylde whiche called hym and sayd: “Christofer come out and bere me ouer”. Thenne he awoke and went out, but he fond no man. And whan he was agyn in his hous, he herd the same voys and he ran out and fond no body. The thyrd time he was called and cam theder and fond a chylde besyde the ryuage of the ryuer, whiche prayed hym goodly to bere hym ouer the water.
And thenne Cristofer lyft up the chylde on his sholdres and toke hys staffe and entred in to the ryuer for to passe. And the water of the ryuer aroos and swellyd more and more and the chyld was heuy as leed, and alway as he went ferther the water encresed and grewe more, and the chyld more and more wexyd heuy, in so moche that Christofre had grete anguysse and was aferd to be drowned. And whan he was escaped with grete payne and passyd the water, and sette the chyld a grounde, he sayd to the chyld: “Chylde, thou hast put me in grete peryl, thou wayest alle most as I had had alle the world upon me, I myght bere no greter burdon”. And the childe answerd: “Crystofre merueyle the nothing, for thou has not only born alle the world upon the, but thou has born hym that created and made all the world upon thy sholdres. I am Jhesu Chryste, the kyng to whom thou seruest in thys werke. And bycause that thou knowe that I saye to the trouthe, sette thy staf in the erthe by thy hous, and thou shalt see to morne that it shal bere floures and fruyte”, and anon he vanysshed from his eyen.
And thenne Cristofre sette his staf in therthe, and whan he aroos on the morn, he fond his staf lyke a palmyer beryng floures, leues, and dates. And thenne Cristofre went in to the cite of Lycye and understode not theyr langage. Thenne he prayed our lord that he myght understonde them, and so he dyd. And as he was in this prayer, the juges supposed that he had be a fool and left hym there. And thenne whan Cristofre understode the langage, he couered his visage and went to the place where they marterd Crysten men, and comforted them in our lord. And thenne the juges smote hym in the face, and Christofer sayd to them: “If I were not Crysten I shold anon auenge myn iniurye”. And thenne Cristofre pytched his rodde in the erthe, and prayed to our Lord that for to conuerte the people it myght bere floures and fruyt, and anon it dyd soo. And thenne he conuerted viii thousand men. And thenne the kyng sent two knyghtes for to fetche hym to the kyng, and they fond hym prayeng, and durst not telle to hym soo. And anon after the kyng sent as many mo, and they anon sette them down for to praye wyth hym. And whan Christofre aroos he sayde to them: “What seche ye?”. And whan they sawe hym in the vysage they sayde to hym: “The kyng hath sent us that we shold lede the bounden unto hym”. And Cristofre sayd to them: “Yf I wold, ye shold not lede me to hym, bounden ne unbounden.” And they sayd to hym: “Yf thou wylt goo thy waye goo quyt where thou wylt. And we shalle say to the kyng that we have not founde the.” “Hit shall not be so sayde he, but I shalle goo with you.” And then he conuerted them in the fayth, and commaunded them that they shold bynde his hondes behynd his backe, and lede hym so bounden to the kyng.
And whan the kyng sawe hym he was aferd, and fil doun of the siege, and his seruantes lyft hym up and releuyed hym agayn. And thenne the kyng enquyred his name and his countray, and Cristofre said to hym: “Tofore or I was baptised I was named Reprobus and after I am named Christofer, to fore baptem a Cananee, now a Cristen man.” To whom the kyng said: “Thou has a folissh name, that is to wete of Crist crucifyed whiche coulde not helpe hym self ne may not proffite to the. Now therfor thou cursid Cananyen why wylt thou not do sacrefyse to our goddes?” To whom Cristofre sayd: “Thou art rightfully called Dagarus for thou are the deth of the world, and felaw of the deuyl, and thy goddes ben made with hondes of men.” And the kyng sayd to hym: “Thou were norysshed emonge wyld bestes and therfore thou mayst not say but wyld langage and wordes unknown to men. And if thou wylt now do sacrefyse to the goddes I shal yeue to the grete yeftes and grete honours, and yf not I shall destroye the and consume the by grete paynes and tormentis.” But for alle thys he wold in no wyse do sacrefyse wherfor he was sent in to pryson, and the kyng dyd do behede the other knyghtes that he had sent for hym whom he had conuerted.
And after thys he sent in to the pryson to Seynt Christofer two fayre wymen of whom that one was named Vysena, and that other Aquylene, and promysed to them many grete yeftes yf they coude draw Christofer to synne with them. And whan Christofer sawe that he sette hym doun in prayer, and whan he was constrayned by them that embraced hym to meue, he aroos and sayde: “What sek ye? For what cause be ye comen hyther?” And they, whiche were affrayed of his chyere and clerenes of his vysage sayden: “Holy Seynt of God haue pite of us so that we may beleue in that god that thou prechest.” And whan the kyng herde that, he commaunded that they shold be laten out and brought to fore hym. To whom he sayde: “Ye be deceuyed, but I swere to you by my goddes, that yf ye doo no sacrefise to my goddes, ye shall anon peryssh by euyl deth.” And they sayde to hym: “If thou wilt that we shall do sacrifyse, commaunde that the places may be made clene, and that alle the people may assemble at the temple.” And whan this was doon they entred in to the temple and toke theyr gyrdles and put them aboute the neckes of theyr goddes, and drewe them to therthe, and brake them alle in peaces and sayd to them that were there: “Goo and calle phisiciens and leches for to hele your goddes.” And thenne by the commaundment of the kyng, Aquylyne was honged, and a ryght grete and heuy stone was honged at her feet, so that her membres were moche despitously broken. And whan she was dede and passed to our lord, her suster Vicena was cast in to a grete fyre, but she yssued out without harme alle hool, and thenne he made to smyte of her hede, and so suffred deth.
After this Christofer was brought to fore the kyng, and the kyng commaunded that he shold be beten with roddes of yron, and that there shold be sette upon his hede a crosse of yron rede hote and brennying, and thenne after, he dyd do make a siege or a stole of yron, and made Christofer to be bounden theron, and after to sette fyre under it, and caste theryn pytche. But the siege or setyl malte like waxe. And Christofer yssued out without ony harme or hurte. And when the kyng sawe that, he commaunded that he shold be bounde to a strong stake, and that he shold be thrugh shoten wyth arowes wyth xl knyghtes archers. But none of the knyghtes myght attayne hym, for the arowes henge in thayer about nyghe hym wythout touchyng. Thenne the kyng wende that he had thrugh shoten wyth the arowes of the knyghtes, and adressid hym for to goo to hym.
And one of the arowes retorned sodenly fro the ayer,and smote hym in the eye, and blynded hym. To whom Chrystofer sayde: “Tyraunt, I shalle dye tomorn, make a lytyl claye wyth my blood temperyd, and enoynte therwyth thyn eye, and thou shalt receyue helthe.” Thenne by the commaundement of the kyng he was ladde for to be byheded, and thenne there he made hys oryson and hys hede was smeton of and so suffred martirdom.
And the kyng thenne toke a lytyl of his blood, and leyde it on his eye, and sayde. “In the name of god and of Seynt Christofre”, and was anon heled. Thenne the kyng byleved in God and gaf commaundement that yf ony persone blamed God or Seynt Christofer he shold anon be sleyne with the swerd.
Ambrose sayth in hys preface thus of this holy martir: Lord thou hast gyuen to Cristofer so grete plente of vertues, and suche grace of doctryne, that he called fro the errour of paynems xlviii thousand men to thonour of Cristen fayth by hys shynyng myracles. And Vesene and Aquylene, whiche long had ben comyne atte bourdel under the stench of lecherye, he callyd and made them serue in thabyte of chastyte and enseynged them to a lyke crowne of martirdom. And wyth thys, he beyng strayned and bounden in a sete of yron and grete fyre under, doubted nothyng the hete. And alle a hole day duryng, stode bounden to a stake, myght not be thrugh persed with arowes of alle the knyghtes. And wyth that, one of the arowes smote out the eye of the tyraunte, to whom the blode of the holy martir restablyssed hys syght, and enlumyned hym in takyng awaye the blyndnes of hys body, and gate of the crysten mynde and pardon, and also gate of the by prayer to put away sekenes and sores fro them that remembre hys passyon and fygure. Thenne late us praye to Seynt Christofre that he praye for us etc. Thus endeth the lyf of Seynt Christofre Martyr.
Reprinted from fol.cccxxiv b-ccxxvi b of the 1483 edition" [Whaite]