How on earth did anybody in the Middle Ages come to believe that Saint Christopher was a doghead? A creature that was half human and half dog. Not exactly your traditional image of Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers.
What was a “doghead”?
Dogheads were nothing new in the history of mythology. The ancient Egyptians had, after all, worshiped a dog headed god Anubis – god of the dead. As with many Egyptian religious beliefs, this had been transmitted to the rest of Europe via the Greeks.
By the Middle Ages, baptism was being held up as a cure for any babies looking as if they might be dogheads. A trip to the church font was enough to transform these hybrid creatures into 100% human.
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Christopher transformed from doghead to human
The German 10th/11th century bishop Walther von Speyer is widely credited with being the first person to write that Saint Christopher was a giant doghead. This would explain his strength when he carried the child Jesus across the stream but found himself enduring an enormous weight – the weight of the world and its sins of course. Once Jesus had revealed his true identity to Christopher and he had repented of all his sins, he was baptised and became a human.
Pope Paul VI – architect of the Vatican II reforms in the 1960s – removed Saint Christopher from the list of saints believing he (or it) probably never existed.