Saint of motorists: Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside No. 19/2020
- Saint Christopher – patron saint of travellers and traffic
- Usually present in vehicles as a small depiction on the instrument panel
- “33 Extras”: Exhibits of motoring culture at the Mercedes-Benz Museum
Stuttgart. 160 vehicles and a total of 1,500 exhibits are presented in the varied permanent exhibition of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. The “33 Extras” are a particular highlight: they can bring the history of personal mobility and motoring culture to life using details that are often surprising. The Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside newsletter series draws attention to the “33 Extras” and focuses on their background stories. Todayʼs edition is all about Saint Christopher, the patron saint of motorists.
19/33: Saint of motorists
1 – Patron saint: The feast day for Saint Christopher is 25 July. However, many of us travel around in our vehicles with a badge depicting the saint every day of the year because Christopher, one of the Catholic Churchʼs Fourteen Holy Helpers, is the patron saint of traffic – thus also making him the saint of motorists. His tradition as the protector of travellers goes back many years, long before the invention of the motor car by Carl Benz in 1886. Accordingly, he is also considered the patron saint of carters, sailors, ferrymen, rafters and pilgrims, amongst others, yet nowadays he is most of all known as the patron saint of motorists.
2 – Presence: Christopher is usually present as a small depiction within the driverʼs field of vision, e.g. as a badge on the instrument panel. Alternatively, some opt for combining popular religious belief and ornamentation – just like the exhibit at the Mercedes-Benz Museum: here the depiction of the saint serves as a holder for a small vase containing a freshly cut flower.
3 – The Vatican: Holy Saint Christopher not only accompanies drivers, but also their passengers. Famous in this context is the Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 Pullman Saloon (W 08) that was built in 1930 as the Popeʼs representative vehicle. A Saint Christopherʼs badge is attached on the inside of the vehicle to the right of the Holy Fatherʼs seat in the rear, which is upholstered with brocade. A further Christian motif in the vehicle interior of this very first Mercedes-Benz Popemobile is a depiction of the Holy Spirit on the roof liner. Father Cornelius designed the motif back in the day as Beuron monasteryʼs art expert for parament embroidery.
4 – Air emergency rescue: Helicopters that have been deployed for air emergency rescue operations in Germany since the end of the 1960s also bear Saint Christopherʼs name. In 1970, “Christoph 1” celebrated its debut as Germanyʼs first civilian emergency rescue helicopter. In emergencies helicopter crews often work hand in hand with ambulance teams and Mercedes-Benz vehicles have been used as the basis for ambulances for many generations, such as the Sprinter for the past 25 years. Mercedes-Benz Museumʼs permanent collection features such a Sprinter ambulance in the Collection 3 exhibition space: The Gallery of Helpers.
5 – Versatility: The significance of Saint Christopher seems just as varied as the automotive universe that stretches from inner cities to motorways: for instance, the encyclopaedia of saints (“Lexikon der Heiligen”) lists all other areas in addition to motoring where he also acts as the patron saint. Amongst others, he is considered as “undoubtedly one of the most well-known and popular of all saints”, the patron saint of gardeners, fruit dealers, hatters and bookbinders as well as a patron saint of bridges. The first churches were dedicated to him in as early as the fifth century, yet we know very little about the life and times of the man who died in around 250. He originated from Lycia – the ancient Greek name for a region in the south west of Asia Minor. In most cases, he is depicted as a bearded giant carrying the Christ Child across a river.
6 – Sacred steel: Originally an exclamation of surprise in Swabian (“heiligʼs Blechle!”), the phrase has nothing to do with Saint Christopher, but is derived from a badge given to the poor in the former Duchy of Württemberg. However, nowadays the expression has long since also morphed into the regionally rooted, confident appreciation of the motor car and its associated industry based in the federal German state of Baden-Württemberg.