The Dog-Headed Saint

  Frequently when exploring the realms of the lore and history surrounding Judeo-Christian belief, particularly that found withing the texts of the bible, one encounters stories and accounts that seem to defy any conventional explanation. People rising from the dead, materializing through walls, spontaneous generation, transmutation, etc.


 Are these merely parable, or are these in fact miraculous (or demonic) experiences recorded with the utmost accuracy? Such speculation has been the source of debates, schisms, and conflict since the first disciples went out to spread the word of Christ.


In the stories of the Saints, however, encounters such as these are less common. Usually, the lives of these people are accurately recorded and historical evidence is provided, leaving little room for argument over the identity of these people. But there are some exceptions to these. St. George, the patron saint of Boy Scouts and the armed forces, is recorded to have apparently slain a dragon that had made its home near a spring outside of Libya, and is frequently depicted mounted on a white horse, skewering the creature on a lance. Many historians claim that this was a symbolic representation of the destruction of a pagan cult, but as for the truth, we are left with merely our own speculation.


But there is a tale of a saint that is quite possibly more extraordinary than even Saint George’s encounter with the dragon. St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers of all sorts, is said to have had the head of a dog.


According to some accounts of Easter Orthodox lore, St. Christopher had the head and features of a fearsome canine. There are two possible explanations for this.


One historical explanation is that he was a member of a type of skirmisher unit, known as the Velites. These were frequently made up of poorer farmers and hunters, who used spears and light shields, hurling their javelins and retreating, as they could not afford armor. However, to appear more fearsome and to provide meager protection, they frequently wore wolf-pelts draped around their shoulders and over their head (with the wolf’s head over their own).


The explanation given in the lore was that he was a member of a special race of dog-headed men known as Cynocephali, or, “Dog-headed”, derived from greek. This race was reputed to live in the land of Canaan, land of the Canaanites. And when reading, it is easy to see the resemblance between Canaan and Canine. More alarmingly, these hybrids of man and man’s best friend appear not only in Christian lore, but are well documented in over a dozen cultures and mythologies as being in the same area. Is it possible that these dog-faced denizens of the ancient world truly existed? If so, what happened to them? Like much of Judeo-Christian lore, it seems this story creates more questions than answers. But what we do know is that St. Christopher died for following Christ around the year 250 A.D., and unfortunately was decapitated. So we may never know why he had such a ferocious visage. But perhaps the lesson here is one as old as time: It’s not the outside of a man, but his inside, that counts.