The Nowell Codex Life of Saint Christopher

[The text is acephalous, but I have included the beginning of the “Life of St. Christopher” from the Old English Martyrology, ed. and trans. George Herzfeld. EETS o.s. 116. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Trübner, 1900.]


In the days of the emperor Decius [Christopher] came into the town called Samos from the nation where men have the head of a dog and from the country where men devour each other. He had the head of a dog, his locks were exceedingly thick, his eyes shone as brightly as the morning star, and his teeth were as sharp as a boar’s tusk. In his heart he believed in God, but he could not speak like a man. When he prayed to God to give him human speech, a man in a white robe stood near him and breathed into his mouth; after that he could speak like a man. The emperor then sent two hundred soldiers to conduct him to him: if he would not come to him, they were to slay him and to bring him his head that he might see what it was like. When the soldiers came to him, they dared not approach him, and yet he set out with them. As he came to the emperor and he saw his countenance, he was so astonished that he fell from his royal throne. Then the emperor offered him gold and silver in order to seduce him from the belief in Christ. As he would not submit to this, he ordered him to be tormented with various tortures… (pp. 67-9)

[This version begins as Dagnus interrogates the captured Christopher. The first eight words are supplied from a Latin text of the Passio Sancti Christopher.]


“[I am not foolish, but am the servant] of my lord and savior Christ but you [are] foolish and unwise, you who dreads not the lord who is the shaper of all things.” Then the king grew angry and ordered that Christopher’s hands and feet be bound together and he ordered him beaten with iron rods and he ordered that three men set to work on Christopher’s head.

Then the warriors that beat him spoke unto the king: “Blessed you would be, Dagnus, if you had never been born, who slaughter-cruelly orders such a champion of god to be tortured thus.”

The king then grew angered and he ordered that those men be killed at once.

Then holy Christopher cried out to the king and said, “If you have any more torments dreamed up for me, swiftly do them because your tortures are sweeter to me than the comb of the honey.”

Then the king commanded that an iron table be brought that was equal to that man’s stature in height, that was twelve fathoms long. King Dagnus ordered this table set up in the very middle of city and the holy Christopher bound thereto, with a very great fire kindled beneath him. And when the tongues of that fire were at their greatest heat, King Dagnus ordered that ten pitchers filled with oil be poured over it there, because he wished that the fire’s heat would be the fiercer and more blasting upon that holy man.

The holy Christopher then, from the very middle of the fiercest and most immense flames of the fire, called out to the Lord in a bright voice and he said to the king: “These torments that you command brought upon me shall come to shame and your destruction. And I will never fear your torments nor your rage.”

And when the holy one said this, the table in the middle of a multitude of flames became all like pressed wax. Then King Dagnus saw the holy Christopher standing amid the fire and he saw that his face was that of roses in bloom. When he saw that Christopher was in a display of great mindfulness, and for the fright of terror Dagnus was so alarmed that he fell upon the earth and lay there from the first hour of day until the ninth.

Then the holy Christopher saw him and ordered him to rise up. When Dagnus had risen he spoke to him: “You, worst of wild beasts, how long do you presume to urge my people away from me so that it is not permitted to them to sacrifice to my gods.”

The holy Christopher answered him and said: “Now yet a great multitude of people believe in my Lord and Savior Christ through me and after them you will yourself.”

The king then answered him reproachfully and said to him: “Is this your hope that you can betray me such that I pray to your god and deny my own? Then know that upon this day at morrow at this same hour, I shall wreak my vengeance upon you and I shall do what will make you lost. Your name shall be blotted out from this memory and from this life. And you must be an example to all of those that through you believe in your god.”

The next day then the king commanded the holy Christopher be led to him and said to him: “Learn my word and sacrifice unto my gods so that you might not perish in so many tortures as are prepared for you.”

The holy Christopher answered him and said: “Always I will abominate your gods and do them injury because I will hold my belief unblemished that I took up in baptism.”

The king ordered then that a tree of unmeasured greatness be brought that was as high as the saintly man’s height, and he bade it be set before the hall. He ordered him be fastened thereon and commanded that three warriors shoot at him with their arrows until he was killed. Those warriors then shot at him from the first hour of day until evening. The king then believed that all of those arrows were affixed in Christopher’s body-home—but not even one touched him. The power of God was hanging in the air at the right side of that holy man. Then the king after the setting sun sent for those warriors and he commanded that they hold him eagerly tied so because he believed that the Christian folk wished to free him at the morrow of the day.

Then the king as going out to that holy Christopher and said to him: “Where is your God that has come not and freed you from my hands or these terrible arrows?”

Quickly then, when he had spoken these words, two points from the arrows shot into the king’s eyes, and he was blinded by them.

When the holy Christopher saw that deed, he spoke to Dagnus: “You are slaughter-cruel and you are foolish. Know you that this day at morrow at the eighth hour of the day I will take up my victory. God Himself reveals that the Christian men will come and take my corpse and set it in the place that was revealed by the Lord to them. Come then to my body and take loam from the earth upon which I was martyred. Mix it with my blood and set it then in your eyes if you believe in God with you whole heart. That same moment, you shall be healed from the blindness of your eyes. Understand the time has approached when Christopher, chosen of God, takes the reward of his struggle and goes quickened to his Lord.”

At the morrow of the day, before he was killed by those warriors, he began to pray with these words, saying: “Almighty Lord, you have turned me from error and taught me good wisdom so that I am now of your people. I pray to you at this moment that it seems that I am ready in whichever place that any part of my corpse may be there may be no famine or the terror of fire. And if there might be sick men near there, and they come to your people at that holy temple and they pray there to you from their whole heart and by your names they cry out in my name, heal them from the lord wheresoever infirmity restrains them.”

And in that same hour, a voice was heard calling to him: “Christopher my servant, your prayer is heard though your body may not be in this place. Whatever faithful men pray to your name in their prayers they will be healed from their sins and whatever they rightly ask for in your name and in your favor they shall receive it.”

When this glorious speech from heaven was heard and finished from the champion he was quickly slain and he, in the most bliss and unspeakable glory, traveled to Christ and that was a miracle for the people that holy Christopher through his good teaching had obtained for them. That was eight and four thousand men and a hundred and fifteen.

The second day then Dagnus spoke to his thanes: “Go out and see where they have set that champion.” And when they came to that place where the holy body was, the king called them with his great voice and said: “Christopher! Reveal to me now the truth-fastness of your God and I shall believe in him.” And he took his portion of this earth where the martyr of Christ had been suffering with a little of the blood and mixed them together and set it upon his eyes. And he spoke: “In the name of Christopher’s God, I judge this,” and swiftly at that same moment his eyes were unclosed and he took up sight.

And King Dagnus called in a great voice and he spoke before all his people: “Glory-fast and great is the God of Christian men, whose glorious works no human devices can vanquish. Now from this day of days forth, I will send commands throughout my entire realm that no man that belongs to the jurisdiction of my kingdom nor any creature shall presume to work contrary to the will of the Heavenly God that Christopher honored.

“If then any man be ensnared through the tricks of the devil that he might presume it at that same time to be punished with a sword: therefore I now truly know that there is no power, earthly or corruptible—there is naught but his alone.”

And so it was done through God’s might and through the favor of that blessed Christopher that the king trusted. He was before filled by the will of the devil and after by that holy Christopher. Glorious works are now long to tell that the Lord through him were wrought as praise of his name and made now unto this day, because there now flourishes and grows his holy prayers and there is obedience of the Lord with all concord and rejoicing and there is blessed Christ the living Son of God reigns with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost forever without end.

May sainted Christopher also ask these things on the nearest time before his spirit was sent forth, speaking: “Lord my God, give good reward unto him that has written of my suffering and eternal recompense to those might read of them with tears.

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