Anthony of Padua
13th century Franciscan friar and Doctor of the Church
St. Anthony of Padua, original name Fernando Martins de Bulhões, (born 1195, Lisbon, Portugal—died June 13, 1231, Arcella, Verona [now in Italy]; canonized 1232; feast day June 13), Franciscan friar, doctor of the church, and patron of the poor. Padua and Portugal claim him as their patron saint, and he is invoked for the return of lost property.
Sant’Antonio of Padua Basilica – Padua, Italy
Early life of St Anthony
St Anthony of Padua was born in Lisbon, Portugal. His wealthy and noble family arranged for him to be instructed at the local cathedral school. At the age of 15 Fernando entered the religious order of St. Augustine. Monastery life was hardly peaceful for the youth, nor conducive to prayer and study, since his old friends came to visit frequently and engaged in vehement political discussions. After two years, at his request he was sent to Coimbra (cornbrow). There he began nine years of intense study learning the Augustinian theology that he would later combine with Franciscan vision. Fernando was most likely ordained a priest during this time.
After his ordination to the priesthood, Fernando was named guestmaster at the age of 19, and placed in charge of hospitality for the abbey. While he was in Coimbra, some Franciscan friars arrived and settled at a small hermitage outside Coimbra dedicated to Saint Anthony of Egypt. Fernando was strongly attracted to the simple, evangelical lifestyle of the friars, whose order had been founded only 11 years prior. News arrived that five Franciscans had been beheaded in Morocco, the first of their order to be killed. King Alfonso ransomed their bodies to be returned and buried as martyrs in the Abbey of Santa Cruz. Inspired by their example, Fernando obtained permission from church authorities to leave the Canons Regular to join the new Franciscan order. Upon his admission to the life of the friars, he joined the small hermitage in Olivais, adopting the name Anthony (from the name of the chapel located there, dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great), by which he was to be known.
The young Augustinian monk called Fernando went to the convent of St. Anthony, where he took vows of the Franciscan order and assumed the name of Anthony in honor of the patriarch of hermits.
True to their promise, the Franciscans allowed Anthony to go to Morocco, to pursue what he felt was his calling – to be a witness for Christ, and a martyr as well, if God asked.
But, as often happens, the gift Anthony wanted to give was not the gift that was to be asked of him. While in Morocco, he became seriously ill, and after several months realized he had to go home.
During the journey home, his ship ran into storms and high winds and was blown east across the Mediterranean. Eventually his ship made land on the east coast of Sicily. The friars at nearby messina, though they didn’t know him, welcomed him and began nursing him back to health. Still ailing, Anthony wanted to attend the great Pentecost chapter of mats (so called because the 3,000 friars could not be housed and slept on mats). Francis of Assisi was there and was also sick.
Since Anthony was essentially a visitor from “out of town” at the friary in Sicily, he received no assignment during the chapter of mats, so he asked to go and be with a provincial superior from northern Italy. “Instruct me in the Franciscan life,” he asked, not mentioning his prior theological training.
When the provincial superior agreed, Anthony was overjoyed. Now, like Francis, he had his first choice — a life of seclusion and contemplation in a hermitage
Saint Anthony of Padua Holding Baby Jesus by Strozzi, c. 1625; the white lily represents purity.
One day in 1222, in the town of Forlì, on the occasion of an ordination, a number of visiting Dominican friars were present, and some misunderstanding arose over who should preach. The Franciscans naturally expected that one of the Dominicans would occupy the pulpit, for they were renowned for their preaching; the Dominicans, though, had come unprepared, thinking that a Franciscan would be the homilist. In this quandary, the head of the hermitage, who had no one among his own humble friars suitable for the occasion, called upon Anthony, whom he suspected was most qualified, and entreated him to speak whatever the Holy Spirit should put into his mouth. Anthony objected, but was overruled, and his sermon created a deep impression. Not only his rich voice and arresting manner, but also the entire theme and substance of his discourse and his moving eloquence, held the attention of his hearers. Everyone was impressed with his knowledge of scripture, acquired during his years as an Augustinian friar.
At that point, Anthony was sent by Brother Gratian, the local minister provincial, to the Franciscan province of Romagna, based in Bologna. He soon came to the attention of the founder of the order, Francis of Assisi. Francis had held a strong distrust of the place of theological studies in the life of his brotherhood, fearing that it might lead to an abandonment of their commitment to a life of real poverty. In Anthony, however, he found a kindred spirit for his vision, who was also able to provide the teaching needed by young members of the order who might seek ordination. In 1224, he entrusted the pursuit of studies for any of his friars to the care of Anthony.
The reason St. Anthony’s help is invoked for finding things lost or stolen is traced to an incident that occurred in Bologna. According to the story, Anthony had a book of psalms that was of some importance to him, as it contained the notes and comments he had made to use in teaching his students. A novice who had decided to leave took the psalter with him. Prior to the invention of the printing press, any book was an item of value, and would have been difficult for a Franciscan friar to replace given his vow of poverty. Upon noticing it was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned. The thief was moved to restore the book to Anthony and return to the order. The stolen book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna.
Occasionally, he took another post, as a teacher, for instance, at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse in southern France, but as a preacher Anthony revealed his supreme gift. According to historian Sophronius Clasen, Anthony preached the grandeur of Christianity. His method included allegory and symbolical explanation of Scripture. In 1226, after attending the general chapter of his order held at Arles, France, and spreading the word of the Lord in the French region of Provence, Anthony returned to Italy and was appointed provincial superior of northern Italy. He chose the city of Padua as his location.
In 1228, he served as envoy from the general chapter to Pope Gregory IX. At the papal court, his preaching was hailed as a “jewel case of the Bible” and he was commissioned to produce his collection of sermons, Sermons for Feast Days (Sermones in Festivitates). Gregory IX himself described him as the “Ark of the Testament” (Doctor Arca testamenti).
nthony was first recognized for his great gift of preaching at a gathering for the ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans in 1222. After they finished their meal, the provincial suggested that one of the friars give a short sermon. There were no immediate volunteers among the group, so Anthony was asked to give “just something simple,” since he presumably had no education and at the time was only 27 years old.
Anthony, while resisting the offer at first, finally began to speak in a simple, artless way. The “fire” within him became evident. His knowledge was unmistakable, but it was the passionate manner in which he spoke that truly impressed everyone in attendance.
Once his talents and knowledge were exposed, his quiet life of prayer and penance at the hermitage was exchanged for that of a public preacher. Francis heard of Anthony’s skills as a preacher, and re-assigned the young priest to preach in northern Italy.
We know that not everyone was impressed by his preaching. Legend has it that one day, faced with deaf ears, Anthony went to the river and preached to the fish. That, reads the traditional tale, got everyone’s attention.
Anthony was challenged by a heretic to prove the reality of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The heretic brought a half-starved mule and waited to see its reaction when shown fresh fodder on one hand, and the sacrament on the other. The dumb animal ignored the fodder and bowed before the sacrament.
Once in Italy, Anthony was dining with heretics, when he realized the food put before him was poisoned. When he reproached them for their conduct, they admitted to attempting to poison him, and dared him to eat if he truly believed the words spoken in Mark 16:18, “…and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.” Anthony blessed the food, ate it, and suffered no harm, much to the amazement of his hosts.
Anthony of Padua with the Infant Jesus by Antonio de Pereda, detail
Anthony became sick with ergotism in 1231, and went to the woodland retreat at Camposampiero with two other friars for a respite. There, he lived in a cell built for him under the branches of a walnut tree. Anthony died on the way back to Padua on 13 June 1231 at the Poor Clare monastery at Arcella (now part of Padua), aged 35.
According to the request of Anthony, he was buried in the small church of Santa Maria Mater Domini, probably dating from the late 12th century and near a convent which had been founded by him in 1229. Nevertheless, due to his increased notability, construction of a large basilica began around 1232, although it was not completed until 1301. The smaller church was incorporated into structure as the Cappella della Madonna Mora (Chapel of the Dark Madonna). The basilica is commonly known today as “Il Santo” (The Saint).
Various legends surround the death of Anthony. One holds that when he died, the children cried in the streets and that all the bells of the churches rang of their own accord. Another legend regards his tongue. Anthony is buried in a chapel within the large basilica built to honor him, where his tongue is displayed for veneration in a large reliquary along with his jaw and his vocal cords. When his body was exhumed 30 years after his death, it was found turned to dust, but the tongue was claimed to have glistened and looked as if it were still alive and moist; apparently a further claim was made that this was a sign of his gift of preaching. On 1 January 1981, Pope John Paul II authorized a scientific team to study the saint’s remains and the tomb was opened on 6 January.
Anthony was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on 30 May 1232, at Spoleto, Italy, less than one year after his death.
“The richness of spiritual teaching contained in the Sermons was so great that in [16 January] 1946 Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed Anthony a Doctor of the Church, attributing to him the title Doctor Evangelicus [“Evangelical Doctor”], since the freshness and beauty of the Gospel emerge from these writings.”
Veneration as patron saint
El Greco’s painting, 1580, shows the book with an image of the Christ child on the page.
Anthony’s fame spread through Portuguese evangelization, and he has been known as the most celebrated of the followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is the patron saint of Lisbon, Padua and many places in Portugal and in the countries of the former Portuguese Empire.
He is especially invoked and venerated all over the world as the patron saint for the recovery of lost items and is credited with many miracles involving lost people, lost things and even lost spiritual goods.
St. Anthony Chaplets help devotees to meditate on the thirteen virtues of the saint. Some of these chaplets were used by members of confraternities which had St. Anthony as their patron saint.
In 1692, Spanish missionaries came across a small Payaya Indian community along what was then known as the Yanaguana River on the feast day of Saint Anthony, 13 June. The Franciscan chaplain, Father Damien Massanet, with agreement from General Domingo de Teran, renamed the rivers in his honor, and eventually built a mission nearby, as well. This mission became the focal point of a small community that eventually grew in size and scope to become the seventh-largest city in the country, the U.S. city of San Antonio, Texas.
In New York City, the Shrine Church of St. Anthony in Greenwich Village, Manhattan celebrates his feast day, starting with the traditional novena of prayers asking for his intercession on the 13 Tuesdays preceding his feast. This culminates with a week-long series of services and a street fair. A traditional Italian-style procession is held that day through the streets of its South Village neighborhood, during which a relic of the saint is carried for veneration.
Miraculous Image of Saint Anthony, by Franciszek Lekszycki OFM, 1649, Przeworsk, Poland
Each year on the weekend of the last Sunday in August, Boston’s North End holds a feast in honor of Saint Anthony. Referred to as the “Feast of All Feasts”, Saint Anthony’s Feast in Boston’s North End was begun in 1919 by Italian immigrants from Montefalcione, a small town near Naples, where the tradition of honoring Saint Anthony goes back to 1688.
Each year the Sandia Pueblo along with Santa Clara Pueblo celebrates the feast day of Saint Anthony with traditional Native American dances.
On 27 January 1907, in Beaumont, Texas, a church was dedicated and named in honor of Saint Anthony. The church was later designated a cathedral in 1966 with the formation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, but was not formally consecrated. On 28 April 1974, St. Anthony Cathedral was dedicated and consecrated by Bishop Warren Boudreaux. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI granted the cathedral the designation of minor basilica. St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica celebrated its 100th anniversary on 28 January 2007.
St. Anthony gives his name to Mission San Antonio de Padua, the third Franciscan mission dedicated along El Camino Real in California in 1771.
In Ellicott City, Maryland, southwest of Baltimore, the Conventual Franciscans of the St. Anthony Province dedicated their old novitiate house as the Shrine of St. Anthony which since 1 July 2004 serves as the official shrine to Saint Anthony for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Brazil and Europe
Saint-Antoine de Padoue parish in Wavre, Belgium
Santo Antônio (Saint Anthony) Church in Teresópolis, Brazil
Saint Anthony is known in Portugal, Spain, and Brazil as a marriage saint, because legends exist of him reconciling couples. His feast day, 13 June, is Lisbon’s municipal holiday, celebrated with parades and marriages (the previous day, 12 June, is the Dia dos Namorados in Brazil). He is one of the saints celebrated in the Brazilian Festa Junina, along with John the Baptist and Saint Peter. He is venerated in Mogán Village in Gran Canaria, where his feast day is celebrated every year with oversized objects carried through the streets for the fiesta.
In the town of Brusciano, Italy, located near Naples, an annual feast in honor of Saint Anthony is held in late August. This tradition dates back to 1875. The tradition started when a man prayed to Saint Anthony for his sick son to get better. He vowed that if his son would become healthy that he would build and dance a giglio like the people of Nola do for their patron San Paolino during the annual Fest Dei Gigli. (A giglio is a tall tower topped with a statue of the saint that is carried through the streets in carefully choreographed maneuvers that resemble a dance.) The celebration has grown over the years to include six giglio towers built in honor of the saint. This tradition has also carried over to America, specifically the East Harlem area of New York, where the immigrants from the town of Brusciano formed the Giglio Society of East Harlem and have been holding their annual feast since the early 1900s.
In Albania, the Franciscans arrived in 1240 spreading the word of Saint Anthony. The St. Anthony Church, Laç (Albanian: Kisha e Shna Ndout or Kisha e Laçit) in Laç was built in his honor.
In Poland, he is the patron saint of Przeworsk. The icon of Saint Anthony, dating from 1649, is housed in a local (Franciscan church, Kaplica Świętego Antoniego w Przeworsku [pl]).
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St. Anthony of Padua in St. Joseph’s Church, Macao
Devotion to Saint Anthony is popular throughout all of India. In Uvari, in Tamil Nadu, India, the church of Saint Anthony is home to an ancient wooden statue that is said to have cured the entire crew of a Portuguese ship suffering from cholera. Saint Anthony is said to perform many miracles daily, and Uvari is visited by pilgrims of different religions from all over South India. Christians in Tamil Nadu have great reverence for Saint Anthony and he is a popular saint there, where he is called the “Miracle Saint.”
Also in India, a small crusady known with the name of Saint Anthony is located in the village called Pothiyanvilai, state of Tamil Nadu Kanyakumari district near Thengapattinam, where thousands of devotees attend every Tuesday and Friday to receive his blessings, miracles, and guidings directly from St. Anthony’s soul entering in the body of a holy person for the last 34 years. The southern Indian state of Karnataka is also a holy pilgrimage center in honor of Saint Anthony (specifically located in the small village of Dornahalli, near Mysore). Local lore holds that a farmer there unearthed a statue that was later identified as being that of Saint Anthony. The statue was deemed miraculous and an incident of divine intervention. A church was then erected to honor the saint. Additionally, Saint Anthony is highly venerated in Sri Lanka, and the nation’s Saint Anthony National Shrine in Kochikade, Colombo, receives many devotees of Saint Anthony, both Catholic and non-Catholic. There is also a church in Pakistan of Saint Anthony of Padua in the city of Sargodha under the Diocese of Rawalpindi.
National Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua, Pila, Laguna, Philippines where Franciscans established the first church in the country dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua under the Diocese of San Pablo
In the Philippines, the devotion to St. Anthony of Padua began in 1581, in the town of Pila, Laguna, where Franciscans established the first church in the country dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua, now elevated as the National Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua under the Diocese of San Pablo.
In Siolim, a village in the Indian state of Goa, St. Anthony is always shown holding a serpent on a stick. This is a depiction of the incident which occurred during the construction of the church wherein a snake was disrupting construction work. The people turned to St. Anthony for help and placed his statue at the construction site. The next morning, the snake was found caught in the cord placed in the statue’s hand.
Giacomo Farelli – St. Antony of Padua
As the number of Franciscan saints increased, iconography struggled to distinguish Anthony from the others. Because of a legend that he had once preached to the fish by the mouth of the river Marecchia in Rimini, this was sometimes used as his attribute. He is also often seen with a white lily stalk, representing his purity. Other conventions referred to St. Anthony’s visionary fervor. Thus, one attribute in use for some time was a flaming heart. He is also sometimes depicted along with the mule in Rimini that allegedly bowed down to him holding the Eucharist.
In 1511, Titian painted three large frescoes in the Scuola del Santo in Padua, depicting scenes of the miracles from the life of Saint Anthony: The Miracle of the Jealous Husband, which depicts the murder of a young woman by her husband; A Child Testifying to Its Mother’s Innocence; and The Saint Healing the Young Man with a Broken Limb.
Another key pattern has him meditating on an open book in which the Christ Child himself appears, as in the El Greco above. Over time the child came to be shown considerably larger than the book and some images even do without the book entirely. He typically appears carrying the infant Jesus and holding a cross.
In popular votive offerings, Anthony is often depicted as miraculously saving individuals in various accidents.
Anthony was the most celebrated of St. Francis of Assisi’s followers and had the reputation of a miracle worker. On January 16, 1946, Pope Pius XII declared him a doctor of the church. In art he is shown with a book, a heart, a flame, a lily, or the child Jesus. Among his authentic writings are sermons for Sundays and feast days, published at Padua in three volumes in 1979.