(active 1700s in Greece)

Sts Stephen and Christopher

Egg tempera on oak, 21 x 16 cm
Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen

Unlike the Western depictions, which show St Christopher as a giant carrying the young Jesus across a river on his shoulders, most icons show him with an animal's head. Although his nickname kynokephalos means dog-headed, there are numerous variations ranging from a horse's or pig's head to one which, while human, is deformed.

According to legend, the future saint came from a race of dog-headed cannibals and was originally called Reprobus (Lat: the cursed). His conversion to Christianity and his baptism brought him not only a new name, Christophoros (Greek: the Christ-bearer), but also a human figure and the ability to speak. From Samos in Lycia he travelled the country as a missionary, preaching the gospel. He succeeded in convincing many of the Christian message, as God reinforced his preaching with miracles, for example the flowering of his staff.

On this icon, Christopher is shown in soldier's dress with a long spear in his right hand. In his left hand, he is holding a shield. Depicted frontally, the saint is flanked on the left by St Stephen, the first martyr, one of the seven deacons consecrated by Christ's apostles through the laying-on of hands. He is, as is usual, shown as a youthful deacon with the tonsure, and is holding a thurible in his right hand. The object in his left hand possibly represents the stones as attribute of his martyrdom.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.