Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Patron Saint of Bicyclists

St. Christopher Bicycle Medallion
"Here, this is for you."

I put out my hand to receive what resembled a brass bracelet, crumpled and oxidised with age.

"I've rescued a few of these off of trashed roadsters over the years. Lovely things they are..."

And that is how I came to possess a St. Christopher bicycle medallion - a Catholic charm given to me by a Protestant, in Northern Ireland. "Behold St. Christopher and go your way in safety," reads the inscription.

St. Christopher Bicycle Medallion
The patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher has been popular with bicyclists in some cultures. In Ireland, various bike accessories with images of the saint can be found - most commonly bells. Medallions like this one are rarer, but this particular one seems to have been popular in County Donegal in the Republic and adjacent areas of Northern Ireland throughout the 1930s-50s. Every so often, the local priest would hold a "blessing of the bikes," with these medallions made for the occasion. Members of the congregation would bring their roadsters to be blessed, at which time the priest would affix the medallion around their seat tubes. The bikes and their journeys would thereupon be protected. 

St. Christopher Bicycle Medallion
Soldered onto a bracket, the medallion is thin, lightweight and flexible, with a closure that makes it adaptable to a wide range of surfaces.

Colourful Cockpit
Local Catholics seem to hold differing opinions regarding St. Christopher. Some have told me he is a made-up saint, just a lucky charm for superstitious travelers. Others say he was indeed a real saint, but has been "retired" by the church. Others still remember people riding with such medallions on their bikes decades ago.

The Blessing of the Bikes ritual has been revived in recent years, mainly in the US. As far as I know, St. Christopher is not mentioned in the proceedings.

39 comments:

  1. When I saw your photo of the handlebars on Flickr, I was wondering about the piece of metal on there. Nice post.

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  2. So... does it work?

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    1. Well, on the one hand I got a flat on a 40mph+ descent (first flat ever on this bike). On the other hand, I didn't crash as a result. So I guess it depends on how you look at it.

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  3. Velouria, there is also a patroness of bicycling, La Madonna del Ghisallo, in Italy who was admitted to that honor by the pope in approximately 1949. There is a shrine and bicycle collection and also completed in 2006 a museum,The Fondazione Museo del Ciclismo-Madonna del Ghisallo. You can read more here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_del_Ghisallo
    and here:
    http://www.cyclingnews.com/features/la-madonna-del-ghisallo-the-patron-saint-of-cycling Thanks as always for enriching our lives! Jim Duncan

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  4. I really like the "Blessing of the Bikes" idea.
    Perhaps somebody with a background in graphic arts/metalcraft could work up a "St. Sheldon" medal?
    He's the patron saint of cycling, after all.

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  5. Oh My, the mountain of crap I'd trade for one of those...

    Spindizzy

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  6. Cycling (I make my own charms) PeppyJuly 10, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    There is only cat.

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  7. ScottUKEireloverJuly 10, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    That's a really nice badge. My wifes Grandapa Jack wore a St.Christopher medal on the inside of his jacket all his life. I look after it now and keep it in the car hanging from the rear view mirror.

    Perhaps you could clean it up and mount it on the bike you built?

    My understanding of St.Christopher is that he was part of a gang of highway robbers, a nasty group if ever there was. One day, as the gang traveled down the road he watched as the leader crossed the road in fear of a shrine to the holy Mary. St.Christopher had joined the gang because they were the strongest people that he knew and he wanted to serve a powerful master. Watching the leader fear of the shrine made him think that god was a more powerful master to follow.

    He left the gang and made friends with an older man who taught him about Christianity and the lessons that Jesus had shown the men and women of the world. St.Christopher thought about how best to serve his master in the future and his friend said that as he was a big strong man perhaps he could help people cross a raging river that many people struggled to cross or could not cross at all.

    He did work by carrying people across the river. On one occasion he was asked to carry a child across. Normally he carried full grown adults across with ease but the weight of the child had him scrabbling across using all his strength. On the other side the child explained he was Jesus and he had carried the weight of the whole worlds sin across the river and thanked him for serving him.

    So that's the story as I remember it.

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  8. That's cool but you never put your hands on the tops?

    Looks like your messing sound w/seat angle and bar height.

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    1. I put my hands on tops maybe 5% of the time, basically just on long climbs. Those lights aren't usually there, or I just push them aside - easy with the elastics. Garmin on the other side is close to the stem, so plenty room for left hand.

      Raised the saddle a little. Everything else stayed same but proportions are different.

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  9. Tomorrow, politics?

    Just kidding. I love Saint Christopher even though I no longer believe in him because when I was growing up, he was the first saint pounded into me who seemed like a regular guy. I can remember reading Catcher in the Rye in high school; when Salinger finally explained the allusion for the slow learners like me, I immediately thought of Saint Christopher. Now, I think of him as the patron saint of lapsed Catholics which became retroactively effective when the church disowned him.

    From a purely personal point of view, please stay in Ireland forever. The place is bleeding into your writing or probably something much more complicated than that.

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    1. Saving politics for the July 12th post!

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  10. The head badge on my Motobacane USA (Bikes Direct) bike has been covered with my Ganesh since right after I got it. You'll recognize the head badge as the Elephant head deity with four arms. It's a Hindu/Buddhist god. - his task in the divine scheme of things, his dharma, is to place and remove obstacles. Suits my riding style here - full of traffic and bad roads. Appeals to my Yoga practice principles. Quite suitable as a symbol of my cycling!

    Here some more info from Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesha

    All bikes that ride in traffic need gods!
    (and so far it works!)

    And FYI -- Los Angeles has an annual Blessing of the Bicycles every spring, near downtown. So far I haven't made it...

    Eric W

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  11. I've been looking for a lovely, old, well-wrought St. Christopher medal for my bicycle for a long time. There are bound to be many more in Ireland than here in the USA. Can you find one for me? I'll pay you, of course, and Gracie the Bicycle, (a DL-1) will wear it proudly. I'll understand if you can't, though. :-)
    Patricia

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    1. No one I know who has them would ever sell them, sorry! You can find some of the bells on ebay though.

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    2. Hi Patricia
      you might want to google a Rosario Medallion Devotional -shop online. these Medallions are still made and sold.
      Here in Germany I can still get new bells and the Bands and all kinds of Medallions for cars Key-chains etc. I bet someone is selling them in the US too.
      the Vintage Patina should be earned with patience ;-)
      Yours Thomas

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  12. I'm no longer Catholic; now Orthodox; but when the priest blesses my house, I make sure that he includes the garage with its multitude of bikes. After all, I ride one of them to liturgy on Sundays on those weekends when my daughter is not with me.

    (I recall one Sunday years ago when I wore an extremely violent neon greenery-yallery jersey to church: Father (an old Irishman, tho' Orthodox) looked a me and said, "They won't hit you by accident, but they might do it on purpose.")

    But forget priests; what about this? http://www.dhm.de/lemo/objekte/pict/pius3/index.html

    Bartali and Koblet with Pio XII.

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    1. I'm a strong advocate about neon green while riding - look at how cops and other workers in street wear it now.

      But looking at some of Veloria's pictures of bright green fields of Ulster, I think in that setting sometimes neon green might instead be camouflage. That leaves orange, which is not a neutral color (on more than one level).

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    2. Neon green would definitely be a camo colour here. People do wear hi-viz orange; that particular shade of it is probably safe to wear politically.

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  13. They have a similar tradition in South America,
    particularly in the deserts of Argentina:

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/pic/?o=1n&pic_id=1202693

    They make shrines by the roadside for their patron saint of travellers,
    and traditionally leave bottles of water beside them.
    A great idea for cyclists in a hot dry empty country.

    John I

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  14. Here, we hold a multi-denominational Blessing of the Bikes. We have different representatives each year. A toga-clad Hare Krisna rode around Railroad Square with us after the Blessings one year. He rode backwards until he fell off his bike right in front of me, shouting "Tour de France". We usually get a smaller ticket-size card to attach to our bike or place in a saddle bag but some give out custom made spoke cards.

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  15. Secular humanist here., but do have 16 years of Carmelite and Jesuit education.

    The Catholic Church does not teach that a blessed vehicle (or whatever) has been given some sort of magical force field. Rather the blessing is meant as an affirmation that ones travels are with the deity.

    How those on the receiving end of the blessing understand what happens is another thing altogether.

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  16. Cool. I have a St. Christopher Bell that I got from Germany.

    It reads "Aspice Christophorum et Tutus Viam Carpe" which translates to 'Look at St. Christopher and travel on safely' or something along those lines.

    It's very kind gesture that someone gave this to you.

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  17. I had a St. Christopher medal sewn onto my Road ID ankle bracelet

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  18. Hello, how did you get that paper clip to attach to the top of the stem? What a great idea for route maps for brevets!

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    1. It's attached with a ziptie. An old rando trick, I take no credit for the idea.

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  19. An alumnus of St. Christopher's School (Protestant), I'm likely immune to the charms of such medallions yet find it charming that so many have and still do express their wishes for safe travels this way. After all, we become what we think.

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  20. We just attended a Blessing of the Bikes here in Portland, Oregon, at the cathedral. St. Christopher wasn't mentioned. Really enjoyed dinging their bike bells at the end of the ceremony!

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  21. I never saw a bike St. Christopher medal but it was very common to see one on the visor or rear view mirror of autos owned by Catholics. We learned that his name mean "Christ bearer" (he's seen carrying the Christ child) and so he became the patron saint of travelers. It was disconcerting to see him demoted by Pope Paul (fans of the planet Pluto can readily understand this) - shakes one's faith, really, because someone who was supposed to be unerring got it wrong - either in canonizing him or in revoking his saintly status.

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  22. I bought (what was told to me) was an old 47 - 48 CM Dick Power frame from an old shop in Nassau County, NY. I bought it for some Chater Lea skipped tooth goodies on it.

    It has a St. Christopher medal bonded / glued / welded / somehow attached to the head tube. Pretty cool on an old track racer.

    Victor K / vsk

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  23. I had one of those St Christopher medallions on the head tube of my Raleigh Cresham Flyer as a kid in England in the early 1970s. I'd almost completely forgotten about it. Thanks for reminding me of it. I loved that bike, and the medallion.

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  24. Hey, How does it work actually?

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  25. I've got one of these German St. Christopher's bells mentioned above on all of my bikes too. And not because I am that religious/superstitious, but because they are the loudest "traditional" cycle bells I can get around here. I suppose these bells are made out of thicker metal than comparable ones in other designs.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sooperkuh/4657707812/

    Plus the unobstrusive silver design looks lovely on the bike.

    I don't know about official (or not) sainthood, but St. Christopher has a rich tradition here in Austria too (there might be even a connection, as large parts of Austria were converted to Catholicism by Irish monks) not only as the saint of cyclists, but also of motorists. There are St. Christopher's medallions/magnets sold in most car parts supermarkets in Austria, if you look closely!

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  26. Hope it helps. I worry about you sometimes. There's a fine line between brave and foolhardy; you're so intelligent you know where it lies, but sometimes you run a bit close to the edge – I've often thought this blog could be subtitled "The Intrepid Adventures of Velouria." :) That post you wrote last year about the Two Bridges – the Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on the Antrim coast – when I saw the photos of the rope bridge, before I read the text, my first thought was, oh, jeez, she didn't ride the Brompton over that, did she?! You'd be doing well to carry it over; I wouldn't even have walked over it myself. Stay safe anyway. :)

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    1. I wouldn't worry. Anyone who rides with me will confirm that I am a conservative cyclist and don't do anything that I don't think I can handle.

      Despite how it may look in the pictures, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a tame tourist attraction that meets a slew of health & safety standards. And they don't allow bikes : )

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  27. From "The Fourteen Holy Helpers" by Father Hammer: "He was born in the land of Canaan, and was named Reprobus, for he was a barbarous heathen. In stature and strength he was a giant. Thinking no one his like in bodily vigor, he resolved to go forth in search of the mightiest master and serve him. In his wanderings, he met with a king who was praised as the most valorous man on earth. To him he offered his services and was accepted...One day a minstrel visited the king's castle, and among the balads he sung before the court was one on the power of Satan. At the mention of this name the king blessed himself, making the sign of the cross. Reprobus, wondering, asked him why he did that. The king replied: 'When I make this sign, Satan has no power over me.' Reprobus rejoined: 'So thou fearest the power of Satan? Then he is mightier than thou, and I shall seek and serve him.' Setting forth to seek Satan, he came into a wilderness. One dark night he met a band of wild fellows riding through the forest. It was Satan and his escort. Reprobus bravely accosted him, saying he wished to serve him. He was accepted. But soon he was convinced that his new master was not the mightiest on earth. For one day, whilst approaching a crucifix by the wayside, Satan quickly took to flight, and Reprobus asked him the reason. Satan replied: 'That is the image of my greatest enemy, who conquered me on the cross. From him I always flee.' When Reprobus heard this, he left the devil, and went in search of Christ. He one day came to a hut hidden in the forest. At its door sat a venerable old man. Reprobus address him, and in the course of the conversation that ensued the old man told him that he was a hermit, and had left the world to serve Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth. 'Thou art my man,' cried Reprobus; 'Christ is He whom I seek, for He is the strongest and the mightiest. Tell me where I can find Him.' The hermit then began instructing the giant about God and the Redeemer, and concluded by saying: 'He who would serve Christ must offer himself entirely to Him, and do and suffer everything for His sake. His reward for this will be immense and will last forever.' Reprobus now asked the hermit to allow him to remain... When Reprobus was fully instructed, he baptized him. After his baptism, a great change came over the giant. No longer proud of his great size and strength, he became meek and humble, and asked the hermit to assign to him some task by which he might serve God. The hermit led him to a river with no bridge, and said: 'Here build thyself a hut, and when wanderers wish to cross the river, carry them over for the love of Christ.' Reprobus faithfully performed the task assigned to him. One night he heard a child calling to be carried across the river. Quickly he rose, placed the child on his stout shoulder, took his staff and walked into the mighty current. Arrived at midstream, the water rose higher and higher, and the child became heavier and heavier. 'O child,' he cried, 'how heavy thou art! It seems I bear the weight of the world on my shoulder.' And the child replied, 'Right thou art. Thou bearest not only the world, but the Creator of heaven and earth. I am Jesus Christ, thy King and Lord, and henceforth thou shalt be called Christophorus, that is, Christ-bearer. Arrived on yonder shore, plant thy staff in the ground, and in token of my power and might tomorrow it shall bear leaves and blossoms.' And the child disappeared. On reaching the other shore, Christophorus stuck his staff into the ground, and behold, it budded forth leaves and blossoms. Then, kneeling, he promised the Lord to serve Him ever faithfully. He kept his promise, and thenceforth became a zealous preacher of the Gospel, converting many to the Faith. On his missionary peregrinations he came also to Lycia, where 18,000 heathens requested baptism. When Emperor Decius heard of this, he sent 400 soldiers to capture Christophorus.

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  28. (Continued from last post)
    To these he preached so convincingly, that they all asked for baptism. Decius became enraged and had him cast into prison. There he first treated him with kindness, and surrounded him with every luxury to tempt him to sin, but in vain. Then he ordered him to be tortured until he should deny the Faith. He was scourged, placed on plates of hot iron, boiling oil was poured over and fire was lighted under him. When all these torments did not accomplish their purpose, the soldiers were ordered to shoot him with arrows. This, too, having no effect, he was beheaded, on July 25, 254.

    Two great saints refer to the wonderful achievements of St. Christophorus. St. Ambrose mentions that this saint converted 48,000 souls to Christ. St. Vincent Ferrer declares that when the plague devastated Valencia, its destructive course was stayed through the intercession of St. Christophorus."

    For all the travelers in this world, you may say-- with me-- "St. Christopher, lead us safely home!"

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