Páis Cristoforus ‘The passion of Christopher’

  • Late Middle Irish, Early Modern Irish
  • prose
Medieval Irish passion of Saint Christopher, dog-headed saint, evangelist and martyr.
First words (prose)
  • Bai ingreim forsna Cristaidibh an aimsir Dheic in impir
pp. 278a.i–280a.m
rubric: ‘Pais Cristifir in Choncinn .vii. .kl- mai’
beg. ‘[B]ai ingreim mor forsna Cristaidib i n-aimsir Dhéc i h-imper[?]’
The first heading and the beginning of the text on p. 278a (“Pais Cristifir in Chonchinn vii .kl- mai”) are followed, not by our passion, but by a background story about saint’s name, his master, the story of Christopher carrying the Christ child, etc. (not printed by Fraser). The top of the right column is damaged, making the text partly illegible. Further down on p. 278b, the heading and beginning of the text are repeated and the legend proper begins. The text ends imperfect.
ff. 16(68)ra ff
rubric: ‘Pais Crisdofuruis’
beg. ‘Bai ingreim for Cristaidaib a n-aimsir Deic in impir’
  • Late Middle Irish Early Modern Irish
  • Late Middle Irish/Early Modern Irish?
prose (primary)
Textual relationships

The Bollandists distinguish between at least 3 different versions of St Christopher’s life in Greek (BHG 309-311) and 17 in Latin (BHL 1764–1780). Of the Latin texts, there are two main subgroups, which have been labelled the ‘Decius’ branch (1764–65) and the ‘Dagnus’ branch (1766–1775), after the ruler identified as having persecuted the saint. Which of these versions are closest to the source text of the Irish Life, and precisely how the Irish Life relates to the transmission of the Christopher legend, still requires further study, which in turn would benefit from continued research on the Latin tradition and the availability of new critical editions of the Latin texts.

That a version of the legend of Saint Christopher was known in early medieval Ireland is confirmed by his entry in the Martyrology of Tallaght and in Félire Óengusso and its scholia, which commemorate the martyr on 28 April. His feastday is fixed on the same date in the second recension of Bede’s Martyrology and in some of the later copies of the Old English martyrology, which include an Old English passion that is close to BHL 1765. It has been suggested that this “28 April tradition [...] may be tentatively regarded as an early Celtic import from the east”.

Fraser had little to say about the sources of the Irish passion. In a footnote, he briefly suggested that it was a version of the Life “as related in e. g. the Golden Legend” (Aurea legenda, BHL 1779) which was available to the Irish translator and at the same time, that it accords with the “oriental recension”, i.e. the Decius branch.(1)n. 1 Fraser borrows the term oriental/orientalisch from A. Mussafia, who used it in his article “Zur Christophlegende” (1893): 7. More recently, S. C. Thomson has suggested that the Irish Life and the earliest Greek version (BHG 310) may go back to a version that predates the Decius branch.

There are two further accounts in Old English, which stem from a different strand of the tradition: an acephalous passion in the Nowell Codex (BL, MS Cotton Vitellius A xv, ff. 94r-209r: 94r–98r) and a related fragment in BL, MS Cotton Otho B x. It has been observed that in terms of its exotic subject matter, the composition of texts in the final part of the Leabhar Breac (which includes the present text) resembles that in the Nowell Codex.



Martyrdom and persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire
Martyrdom and persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire
id. 61146
Saint Christopher
Saint Christopher
(supp. fl. 3rd or 4th century)
Widely revered saint and martyr whose legend is known from a variety of sources in Greek, Latin and vernaculars such as Old English and Irish. The Bollandists distinguished between 17 different Latin versions of his life (BHL 1764–1780). In these versions and its derivatives, he is frequently described as a creature from the race of dog-heads (cynocephali), who having attained the power of speech and converted to Christianity, preaches the word of God in the city of Samos, or elsewhere, and is finally martyred by a ruler named Dagnus or the historical Roman emperor Decius (fl. 3rd century).

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Fraser borrows the term oriental/orientalisch from A. Mussafia, who used it in his article “Zur Christophlegende” (1893): 7.

Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] Fraser, J., “The passion of St. Christopher”, Revue Celtique 34 (1913): 307–325.
Internet Archive: <link>, <link>
Edition wanted
The passage “inserted” at the beginning of the LB text has not been edited or translated.

Secondary sources (select)

Bernhardt-House, Phillip A., Werewolves, magical hounds, and dog-headed men in Celtic literature: a typological study of shape-shifting, Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.  
This book is a typological study of canids and canid imagery in Medieval Celtic cultures. It explores texts ranging from early Irish legal tracts and heroic narrative to exempla from Welsh, Breton, and later Scottish sources.
(source: publisher)
Ch. 5: “Cynocephali, cynocephaloids, and other mutts”.
Plummer, Charles, “A tentative catalogue of Irish hagiography”, in: Charles Plummer, Miscellanea hagiographica Hibernica: vitae adhuc ineditae sanctorum Mac Creiche, Naile, Cranat, 15, Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1925. 171–285.
Utrecht University Library: <link>
258 [id. 314.] Plummer lists “Hodges & Smith no. 224” as if it were another manuscript, but this is simply the old Hodges & Smith signature for the second volume of the Leabhar Breac (pp. 263-280 in the facsimile). Plummer’s reference to “p. 16” of that volume can be explained by observing that p. 278 is the 16th page of the second volume.
Gaidoz, Henri, “Saint Christophe à tête de chien en Irlande et en Russie”, Mémoires de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France 76 (1924): 192–218.
Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
October 2021, last updated: June 2023