This pendant shows St. Christopher carrying a child on his back attempting to cross a body of water, who according to Christian theology, later reveals himself to be Jesus Christ. Around the perimeter of the pendant, there’s a carving that says “Saint Christopher Protect Us.” The legend goes that upon his search for Christ and before acquiring the status of “saint,” Christopher encountered a hermit that told him the best way to serve Christ was through fasting and prayer. Unable to serve Christ through these means, the hermit suggested instead to help those that were unable to cross a perilous river to reach a village. Christopher accepted this position and after a long time a young boy appeared and asked him for help crossing the river. Once he was on his shoulders and they were crossing the river, the water felt denser to Christopher and the child also felt extremely heavy, making it increasingly difficult to cross an already dangerous river. After completing his task, Christopher admitted to the boy that was the most difficult thing he had ever done. In response, the child told him that he had not only carried the weight of the world but he who made it (Mâle).
One of the most popular ways to which individuals affiliated with a religious faith express their beliefs is through jewelry. Jewelry with religious connotations can be one of the most obvious and effective expressions of one’s personal morals, truths, story, or simply religious pride. This particular pendant is owned by Michael Props. He has owned it for 3 years and it is significant to him because it was given to him by his mother the night before he left for college. Although pieces like this are used to be an outward showcase of a religious dedication, they often have connotations of personal sentiments like dedication to the family in Michael’s case. His display of this particular pendant is characterized by his inner faith, morals, and discretions. The highly personal nature of Michael’s display of this pendant led us to ask him some questions about wearing it on a daily basis, what it means to him, and why.
In the interview with Michael, he was asked about his personal connection with the pendant. In an earnest answer, Michael said that he really did not think about it too often and had started to wear it more out of habit than anything. Initially, he says that his mother was under the impression that he was serious about his religious life given his involvement with the Boy Scouts of America. However, this was very much the opposite of the truth in that he hadn’t had a strong religious identity since he was much younger. The gift still meant a lot to him, as is evident by his continued use of the pendant, though for different reasons. To Michael, the pendant is about his connection to his family and more so his roots. He recognizes that he does have a slightly religious background, regardless of whether he adheres to those values still or not, and the make-up of his identity includes that religious experience. Michael is a bit of an anomaly in that he recognizes his participation in the religious world despite his lack of active and cognizant engagement and has melded that into his self-image.
As human beings, each of us has our own personal sense of self-worth, and religion is often a foundation for personal beliefs and self-regard. Such an outward expression of one’s faith with religious jewelry, like this particular pendant can be deeply sentimental. Sociological analyses of individuals who choose to display religious-themed jewelry by sociologist R.A. Wicklund have highlighted these pieces as fulfilling a sense of identity. In America, our identities are often formed by the heavy influence of the communities we choose to identify with. Religious communities are arguably the most influential. Along with these items of jewelry, a sense of “prestige” or understanding of placement within a religious community at large may follow. Michael’s pendant is a symbol of Saint Christopher, reflective of the Catholic religion.
Pendants are objects that hold deep meaning among religious communities and can encompass many meanings within religion. They can be used in the evangelizing process, as an emotive outlet in style, awards for completing duties, and much more. What all these have in common is that pendants hold the values and ideals of one’s religion and that they can be easily shared within. Wearing these pendants will allow for easy visual identification of what someone believes in and with which religious ideals that person identifies. Pendants can hold meaning for one’s self that most people will not know, as well. Pendants hold memory for when they are acquired and that could be a personal experience or a religious experience (McDannell, 41). Pendants can be given as gifts, as many religious items are, and within the gift-giving process, an individual could form a memory that deeply affects their identity. Even more so, the pendant can be a reminder about a religious experience such as going on a pilgrimage. Pendants can serve as a reminder of one’s faith, belief, and spirituality just as going on a pilgrimage would do.
The saints that are often depicted from Christianity in pendants and other jewelry function a bit more like talismans of good fortune than, say, prayer beads that are actively used in prayer. Saint-pendants take on a passive role in an individual’s life, presumably providing them with unspoken guidance and direction. However, the saints themselves in the early days of the Church were very much active in that they were essentially a middle-man through which a person could communicate with God. More recently, sainthood and sanctum, or the acquiring of the status of “saint,” have been considered more abstract. Saints are more like historical figures whose actions are to be mimicked in regards to their motivation. Kirk’s roommate, Michael, is appropriately defended by St. Chris: the patron saint of bachelors, traveling, and even tooth decay. Saints generally have a tale or two that sums up their wholesome character. In St. Chris’s case, he traversed a dangerous river while unknowingly carrying the baby Jesus. For his deeds to the Church, in that he aided their favorite baby, and through the actions he took in the rest of his life, St. Chris was given sanctum and now protects Michael in his own journey.
Belonging to a community should not come with negative connotations of fitting into a uniform mold, in this case, it is simply a means of personal understanding and expression stemming out of a familial and religious commitment. Individuality is still possible within a communal religious expression, exemplified by Michael and his pendant which was given to him by his mother.
By John Abel, Jordan Etter, Ruben Gozalez, and Kirk Rogers
McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
Mâle, Emile. Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century. Courier Corporation, 2012.