St Christopher and the Alchemist

Prague’s Charles Bridge is adorned with statues that accompany tourists on their walk across the Vltava river. St Christopher’s statue is one of the more recent, but also full of symbolism.

I huddle with the crowds by a narrow road which separates us from the Charles Bridge. I am in the Old Town, waiting for the lights to turn green so I can see St Christopher for myself. I’d not paid attention to him before, but now that I have some information about him, I’m curious.

A tram shudders to a halt as the lights change colour. We stomp across the cobbled street, our breath crystallising in front of us in the wintry air. I dodge the tourists who stop to take photos of the towers and weave my way through. I see that some of the recent restoration work on other statues is bearing fruit, but keep my eye open for my prize.

A photo of St Christopher, on his way to the left bank - Prague, Czechia

St Christopher, on his way to the left bank – Prague, Czechia

In the nineteenth century city authorities erected a statue of St Christopher on the Charles Bridge. It replaced a sentry box that had fallen into the river during a flood a few years earlier. [3] St Christopher’s pose shows he’s walking towards the left bank – something no other statue on the bridge does. They all face forward.

This is intentional.

The Charles Bridge is part of the Royal route leading from the Powder Tower to the Prague Castle. Czech Kings would walk this route as part of their coronation procession. (I’ve written how alchemists have littered the route with their own symbols) The idea behind the route is simple – just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so a future king travels along the east-west axis to complete his path from mere human to King. The route, in fact, is a perfect east-west route.

In alchemical terms, a base material is converted to gold through alchemy. This process mirrors the transformation of a man into a King as he follows the Royal route. Following the route means that the base material starts in the east and becomes gold in the west.

What has this got to do with St Christopher?

A photo of St Christopher - Prague, Czechia

St Christopher – Prague, Czechia

The stories we have today about Christian saints mainly come from the work of Jacob of Voragine. He was a thirteenth-century archbishop of Genoa and an Italian chronicler. [1] He wrote a book called the Golden Legendย which was very popular in the Middle Ages because it was the first proper hagiography of the saints. [1]

According to Jacob of Voragine, a pagan giant by the name of Offerus used to help travellers cross a river. He met the young Christ and helped him across. Jesus baptised Offereus, naming him “bearer of Christ”. In Greek, this is “Christo-foros” which is where we get Christopher. [2]

Alchemists noted the homophony of the word “Christos” with the word “Chrysos” which is Greek for “gold”. ‘Chrisopher’ (without the ‘t’) is a gold bearer, making St Christopher synonymous with someone bearing gold to alchemists.

A photo of the Charles Bridge - Prague, Czechia

The Charles Bridge

And since the Charles Bridge carries base materials on their way to becoming gold, it too is a gold-bearer or a ‘Chrisopher’.

I stop in front of him. A few tourists pause with me. One of them throws a glance at St Christopher, probably wondering why I’m staring at a statue which seems to be unremarkable.

Little does he know.

 

Did you know about this connection with St Christopher?

References

[1] Jacob of Veragine; Wikipedia; 2017-09-01
[3] St Christopher’s Statue; Kralovska Cesta; (Retrieved 2017-11-11)

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