I was rather disillusioned some years back when I found out that my Confirmation saint probably never existed. New Advent uses some “weasel words” to describe her: “The accounts of her martyrdom which we possess belong to a late period and as usual contain many amplifications which have not, as Baronius has already observed, any historical value.” St. Martina’s bones were discovered in 1634, but nothing was really known about the person to whom those bones belonged.
From Catholic.org: “…unfortunately many of the saints so named were based on legends, pagan mythology, or even other religions – for example, the story of the Buddha traveled west to Europe and he was “converted” into a Catholic saint! In 1969, the Church took a long look at all the saints on its calendar to see if there was historical evidence that that saint existed and lived a life of holiness. In taking that long look, the Church discovered that there was little proof that many “saints”, including some very popular ones, ever lived. Christopher was one of the names that was determined to have a basis mostly in legend. Therefore Christopher (and others) were dropped from the universal calendar.
Some saints were considered so legendary that their cult was completely repressed (including St. Ursula). Christopher’s cult was not suppressed but it is confined to local calendars (those for a diocese, country, or so forth).” (catholic.org/saints/faq.php)
These made-up stories about saints who may have never existed are, I think, like the Fioretti (Little Flowers) of St. Francis of Assisi. They are delightful stories that often point to a truth, but are not themselves true.
This fabrication of saints and events happened not just in the dim past; it still happens today. Mother Theresa hasn’t been dead all that long, yet there are many sayings attributed to her that she never said. Her Sisters have been fighting hard to preserve the real memory of her, not a fabricated one. (motherteresa.org/08_info/Quotesf.html)
D.Q. McInerny, PhD, Professor of Philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, had an article published in a recent issue of the Fraternity Newsletter of the FSSP called “The Truth of Fiction.” In it he says, “The fictitious is not synonymous with untruth…” Good reading.
As for the made-up saints: We are human – we like stories. And if they inspire us to better lives, the stories have done their job. Though it would be helpful if they were properly labeled.
There is a good article here at Catholic Answers which discusses the issue: catholic.com/quickquestions/did-the-church-declare-that-st-christopher-is-a-myth