Beach Guide 2008 Travel 2008 Caribbean

It seems a bit extravagant to consult God on vacation details, but for the Caribbean islands, don't hesitate to call on a saint or two.

Nine islands share the Saint distinction, including three U.S. Virgin islands; one isle divided by two nations; some Windward and Netherlands Antilles landfalls; the St. Tropez of the Caribbean; and a country that changed its name from Christopher to Kitts.

The island name game was first played by Columbus, who wasn't so much creative as he was religious. "Christopher Columbus set the trend of naming the islands after saints," said Trevor Marshall, a historian who lectures at the University of the West Indies. "As time went on, everyone got into the act: the Dutch, the French, the English."

From the 15th through 17th centuries, the explorers would consult the Christian calendar to see which saint's day coincided with a sighting and, as simple as that, an island was tagged. On occasion, though, a spit of land would be named after an explorer's favorite saint or, in Columbus's case, his brother Bartolomeo.

"Catholicism was their idiom," said David Frye, a professor at the University of Michigan's Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program. "It was their language."

But because many of the tropical destinations boast the same traits -- white sand, turquoise waters, affable locals -- it's easy to confuse Thomas with John, Martin with Bart, Vincent with Lucia.

To tease out the differences, we traveled to the holy land of palm trees and crescent beaches to meet four of the Saints. It was a pilgrimage blessed by the Caribbean sun. For the other islands, click here.

-- Andrea Sachs

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