Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 10: Venice, Part 5

August 1, 2021


St. Christopher in the Ducal Palace

We cannot overlook the fresco painting by Titian titled "St. Christopher Crossing the Swollen River" as a notable piece in the field of medical-related art.

It is located on the back wall of the staircase leading to the palace's balcony, and I had the opportunity to see it at the request of the palace staff.

The English name Christopher is derived from the Greek Christos (Christ) and phoros (derived from pherein, meaning to carry or offer), resulting in Christophoros.

In Latin, it is Christophorus.

The literal meaning is "one dedicated to Christ."

In legend, St. Christopher is known as the "bearer of Christ" and is famous as a patron saint of rescue.

A rescue saint is believed to intercede with God for salvation when invoked in times of peril.

In medieval times, people believed that just picturing St. Christopher's image or uttering his name could help them escape death.

This faith was particularly cherished during periods of frequent infectious diseases like the plague.

According to legend, St. Christopher, known as "Christopher the Reprobate," lived in the western region of the Jordan River.

He was a commoner with a massive and rugged appearance.

"Reprobate" is a proper noun derived from the Latin "reprobus" (vulgar).

The belief that invoking the name of St. Christopher could protect against infectious diseases is thought to be influenced by Asclepius, the god of healing in Greek mythology.

Christopher's staff is reminiscent of Asclepius's rod.

According to the legend, one stormy night, St. Christopher carried a young boy on his shoulders across a river.

The boy became increasingly heavy, but despite being drenched, Christopher managed to cross.

The boy revealed himself as Christ, stating that his weight symbolized the sins of the world, and getting wet signified baptism.

From then on, St. Christopher became a devout Christian, carrying the burdens of the poor and weak across rivers.

He prayed for persecuted Christians, performed miracles, and converted an astonishing 48,000 people during his lifetime.

In the end, he was executed by the Roman Emperor Decius, a persecutor of Christians, in the 3rd century.

He was made to wear a red-hot helmet, bound to an iron platform, and set on fire from below.

The iron platform melted like wax, but he stood unharmed, leading to his beheading.


Dying for one's faith is called martyrdom, and St. Christopher is one of the saints who experienced this.