ANDRÉ DURAND Twenty-First Century Paintings
SAINT CHRISTOPHER CYNOCEPHALUS
Dimensions: 167.5 x 112
Oil on linen
“Now this Christopher was one of the Dogheads, a race that had the heads of dogs and ate human flesh. He meditated much on God, but at that time he could speak only the language of the Dogheads. When he saw how much the Christians suffered he was indignant and left the city. He began to adore God and prayed. “Almighty God,” he said, “give me the gift of speech, open my mouth, and make plain thy might that those who persecute thy people may be converted”. An angel of God came to him and said: “God has heard your prayer.” The angel raised Christopher from the ground, and struck and blew upon his mouth, and the grace of eloquence was given him as he had desired. Thereupon Christopher arose and went into the city, and immediately began to stop the offering of sacrifice. “I am a Christian,” he said, “and I will not sacrifice to the gods”. There came a certain Baceus to him and struck him. “You may do so”, said Christopher, “for I will not strike you in return, but I forgive you, for forgiveness is the new law.” Baceus went to the king, and said: “Hail O King, I have news for you. I have seen a man with a dog’s head on him, and long hair, and eyes glittering like the morning star in his head, and his teeth were like the tusks of a wild boar. I struck him for he was cursing the gods; but he did not strike me, and said it was for the sake of God that he refrained. I am telling you this in order to know what is to be done with him, for it seems that it is by the God of the Christians that he has been sent, to help the Christians.” “Bring him to me,” said the king. The bystanders said that a large number of men must be sent for him. “Let two hundred soldiers go for him,” said the king, "and bring him hither in chains; and if he resist you, bring his head with you that I may see it."
The Legend of The Dog-headed Saint Christopher
David Woods of University College, Cork, has collected the essential texts in this tradition at his St. Christopher website. Above is an excerpt from an Irish Passion of Saint Christopher.
The Origin of the Cult of St. Christopher
Russian ikon of St Christopher
In the Physiologus, the early-mediæval source of the late-mediæval Bestiaries, dogs are praised for “having more understanding than any other beast” – and for knowing their name and loving their master. Dogs "are like preachers who by warnings and by righteous living turn aside the ambushes of the Devil…As the dog’s tongue heals a wound by licking, so the wounds of sin are cleansed by the instruction of the priest when they are laid bare in confession."
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, certain icons covertly identify Saint Christopher with the head of a dog. The background to the dog-headed Christopher is laid in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, when a man named Reprebus, Rebrebus or Reprobus (the “reprobate” or “scoundrel”) was captured in combat against tribes dwelling to the west of Egypt in Cyrenaica. To the unit of soldiers, according to the hagiographic narrative, was assigned the name numerus Marmaritarum or “Unit of the Marmaritae”, which suggests an otherwise-unidentified “Marmaritae” (perhaps the same as the Marmaricae Berber tribe of Cyrenaica). He was reported to be of enormous size, with the head of a dog instead of a man, apparently a characteristic of the Marmaritae.
Ikon of St Christopher Cynocephalus
Byzantine Museum of Athens
The German bishop and poet Walter of Speyer portrayed St. Christopher as a giant of a cynocephalic species in the land of the Chananeans (the “canines” of Canaan in the New Testament) who ate human flesh and barked. Eventually, Christopher met the Christ child, regretted his former behavior, and received baptism. He, too, was rewarded with a human appearance, whereupon he devoted his life to Christian service and became an athlete of God, one of the soldier-saints.