Arenal beach. | PERE BOTA

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If he were alive today, and Spanish, Sant Cristófol of Lycia, also known as San Cristóbal or Cristobalón and Saint Christopher, would in all likelihood be the head of the national hauliers association. A giant of a man, Spanish transport politicians would fear his very presence at the negotiating table. But as he is a saint and therefore prone to doing good to all, and not just to hauliers, it would seem that there was a touch of saintly intervention a few days ago. A national hauliers strike was called off. The transport politicians were thus able to breathe a sigh of relief. Another hauliers strike, on top of all the other transport grief, was the last thing they needed.

On July 10, special thanks will be inserted into masses for Cristófol, whose image, such as in Arenal, will be assisting with the blessing of trucks. Strictly speaking, his patronage extends to all forms of transport and indeed travel, but he has become especially associated with truckers. In Pollensa, for instance, a convoy of trucks does a tour of the municipality.

MALLORCA. TRADICIONS. Los conductores buscan la protección de Sant Cristòfol.

These celebrations are, for one particular reason, distinctly peculiar. The official saints’ calendar makes no mention of a Cristófol on July 10. This is because the tenth of July isn’t actually his feast day - it’s the 25th. Those of you familiar with your saints will immediately understand why Spanish tradition shifted Cristófol from July 25. There was saintly overbooking, and they didn’t come any bigger than the other July 25 saint - Sant Jaume, aka Santiago, Spain’s national saint.

There tends not to be such a thing as a saints’ support act in Mallorca. There’s one saint per day and that’s that. But having said this, there is one example of a clash of saints that hasn’t led to a calendar alteration.

On June 29, Mallorca reserves the celebrations for Saint Peter (Sant Pere), but the day is in fact for both Peter and Paul. It says something for Cristófol’s popularity that he was given his own day, and this is a deep-rooted popularity that owes very little to official church procedure.

Going back in time, the Tridentine Calendar of saints and liturgy, as decided by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, determined that Cristófol should only be commemorated at private masses. For a brief time from 1954, this was extended to all masses, but in 1970 he was dropped from the calendar; his commemoration was not considered to be of Roman tradition.

This exclusion doesn’t prevent the very limited number of places which have him as a patron from celebrating mass. In Arenal, the image gets an annual outing as well as presiding over the blessings. They have a flotilla for Christopher and for Our Lady of Carmel, she who is the patron of mariners and the Spanish Navy.

But how did Arenal come to have Cristófol as its patron?

There are just two places in Mallorca where they have fiestas for Cristófol - Biniali is the other. Christopher, although not on the official mass list, is one of the fourteen auxiliary saints. Otherwise referred to as the Fourteen Holy Helpers, they are venerated for their apparent effectiveness in fighting diseases - the plague, for example. This isn’t, however, why Christopher became patron (or co-patron) of Arenal.

When the parish was first established, this was more than a hundred years ago, they had to come up with a patron (or patrons). The choice of Christopher begins to explain why, despite a lack of official church recognition, he is so popular in Mallorca’s folklore. The tenth of July, well established as his alternative feast day, was when the people did something uncommon. They would go to the beach and have a party. It was a day off from the fields, which is where many of the ordinary folk worked. It was a fiesta, one of the most important of the year.

At the turn of the last century and for some decades into the last century, going to the beach wasn’t something that ordinary people did. So in Arenal, it was deemed appropriate to commemorate this day out by adopting Cristófol as a patron. There was a bit more to it, as among his patronage attributes he can point to being the patron of bathers.

This, arguably, was an even more important justification. Back in those days and because people didn’t go to the beach as a rule, hardly anyone could swim. Fishermen and sailors may have been able to. Some of the wealthier classes too, but farmers and farm labourers, no. The tenth of July came to mark the start of the bathing season - for those who could and for those who were able to go to the beach on more than one day a summer.

In Inca, where there were some wealthy members of the leather trade, there was a saying about July 10 being the day for the sea and Saint Christopher. It is thought that this saying was how July 10 came to be the start of the bathing season.

But there was an odd aspect to this, and it relates to all the legend that surrounds Christopher. Patron of bathers he may have been, but parents were reluctant to allow their children to go into the sea on the tenth of July. A terrible fate might await them, and a giant, who had once carried a child on his back across a river - Christopher, the Christ-bearer - would not be able to prevent someone from drowning.

Terrible fate notwithstanding, it was this beachgoing that helped to make Cristófol one of Mallorca’s most popular saints. In addition, the legend of him as a giant helped to foster the tradition of giant figures that goes back to the Barcelona of the early fifteenth century before it was imported to Mallorca.

On the tenth of July, if you go to the beach, you may wish to exercise some caution - just in case - but you may also be amazed that massive beach attendance nowadays is nothing like it once was.