Informant – “When I was being raised, Saint Christopher was an important saint. All of us, the kids, got medals, little medallions that we wore, that were Saint Christopher medals. Saint Christopher was the patron saint of travelers.
Now Christopher means Christ carrier. And the legend is that he was a big person, almost a giant, and he came upon a little boy on the bank of a stream and the little boy asked him to please carry him over to the other side. And so Christopher said sure and proceeded to carry him on his shoulders across the river, and as he went further and the water got deeper the boy got heavier and heavier, and it took all his strength, and when he finally reached the shore, exhausted, he asked the child ‘My gosh how could you weigh so much?’ And the child revealed that he was really Christ and that he was carrying the weight of the world. And then he disappeared.”
Informant – “I grew up with it. And while I was growing up, Christopher was touted as being a real person, but more recent research has found that there is no real record of his existence. The first mention of him was like 3 centuries after he supposedly existed. So they say he’s pretty much a legend.
JK – “What were the medallions for?”
Informant – “It was really a religious good luck charm. It was supposed to protect us from the travails of travels and journeys and all that.”
There is an interesting connection between the medallion and the story. One wears a medallion around one’s neck. You feel the weight at the back of the neck – the same place where you would feel the most weight if you were carrying someone on your shoulders.
Informant: “Saint Wenceslaus was a big saint in the Czech Republic, there is this well known carol about him, though I can’t remember exactly how it goes. He was a bit like Saint Nicholas or Santa like we have in the U.S., except that he took care of people as opposed to giving gifts. The legend goes that Good King Wenceslaus was out walking in the snow and he found a poor person and gave him money, and how that what you’re supposed to do at Christmas is give money to help poor people. A bunch of legends built up around him, like the carol talks about how on this dark and stormy night, we was walking with his helper, and he told his helper to walk in his footsteps in the snow behind him, which was supposed to have a Christ-like connotation to it. An supposedly the whole kingdom under his reign was a wonderful golden age because they had this wonderful king who was a saint. A lot of Catholic churches in the Czech republic and also in places in the United States with a lot of Czech people would be called Saint Wenceslaus’s, or just Saint Wen’s. There is actually a big statue of him in the main square in Prague that is supposed to have the original king’s actual helmet on it!”
The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.
Collector Analysis: This is an interesting legend, and provides an interesting counterpoint to the classic “Winter gift giving story”. Whereas most Christmas traditions involve giving gifts you your family and loved ones, the story of Saint Wenceslaus advocates giving to those people you don’t know who are in need, specifically the poor. Saint Wenceslaus is the Catholic patron saint of Bohemia, which is currently a region within the Czech Republic. This particular legend also shows the strong connection there was between the old European royalty and the Christian faith.
The informant (L) is a senior film major at California State University Los Angeles. L also nannies on the weekends. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and attended Catholic schools before coming to Los Angeles for college. Though her interpretation of Catholicism is more modern than those of the previous generation, she still calls herself Catholic. I asked her if she had any religious folklore and she responded by telling me about the patron saint of television. She said that it was something her friends told each other and she had read in a book when she was about 10 years old. Below is the paraphrased story that she gave as the explanation as to how Saint Clare became the patron saint of television.
Saint Clare of Assisi was a nun in Italy many centuries ago. She was a very devoted nun and never missed a day of mass, ever. One day, however, she got sick and even though she wanted to go to mass, she just could not physically get her body to take her to mass. It was then, in her bedroom, that the Holy Spirit “projected the mass on the wall” of the bedroom so that she could still experience the mass without physically being at the mass. Because this is like what a television does, she was made into the patron saint of television even though she lived a long time before TVs even existed.
Though she had read this in a book, she did not know until later that it was “real” and that Pope Pius XII had actually made her the patron saint of television in the 1950’s. St. Clare is especially important to L because her school and future work life is entirely based on television and film.
It is important to note that L used the word “projected” to describe how St. Clare saw the mass, whereas the more religious sources (like http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-clare-of-assisi/) use other words like display and “able to see.” I think L’s choice of words connects St. Clare to the idea of television (as film etc. used to be projected on to a screen). Additionally, the fact that L skipped a lot of the other important things St. Clare did, like follow St. Francis and other religiously significant things, and got right to the part that mattered: how a saint became connected to television. This says a lot about the way L sees the story: it is a connection between her religion and the way she grew up and the life she is now leading. She feels connected to her religion through St. Clare.
Sometimes I buy St. Anthony spray. Its a spray that contains holy water, like you see in church, but its in a spray can. Theres a prayer on it and I read it in English and Spanish. Then I say my own prayer. Then I spray it around wherever I want to get rid of the bad vibes. I sprayed it in my car last week to get rid of the bad memories that I have had in it. I believe it works, you just gotta believe.
Frank is Catholic, but the origins of this Saint Spray come from Santeria. I know this because I am learning about it in my Religions of Latin America class. Santeria and Catholicism are closely related and share the same roots. Afro-Latinos that are descendents of a mix of Spanish, Indigenous, and Africans that mixed after the conquests. They created their own religion called Santeria that is derived from Catholicism. The same saints are prayed to in both religions, but they have different names sometimes.
The spray cans actually come in a variety of saints, which represent different aspects of life. Saints are chosen based on what one wants to pray for or what they are having trouble with. For example, St. Anthony is a patron of many things, including but not limited to animals, the elderly, seekers of lost articles, travelers, and harvests.
The spray can be defined as a superstition or as a religious object. That is to say, not all Catholics use or believe in the Saint Spray. Some discount it as Santeria, to which is notoriously more related to vodun. Yet, as some sprays represent Catholic saints and contain prayers, the Catholic and Santeria faiths can overlap in certain practices, as some people firmly have faith in the holy saints.