St. Anthony of Padua, Feast of

St. Anthony of Padua, Feast of

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: June 13
Where Celebrated: France, Italy, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, United States
Symbols and Customs: Blessing the Animals, Brides of St. Anthony, St. Anthony's Bread ORIGINS

Although he is named for the Italian city of Padua, where he spent much of his life, St. Anthony was born in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal. He was studying at a monastery in Coimbra when he met some Franciscan missionaries who were on their way to preach Christianity in Morocco. They were martyred there soon afterward, and when their remains were sent back to Coimbra, St. Anthony was so inspired by their example that he decided to follow in their footsteps. Although he became a Franciscan and managed to get sent to Africa to preach, he fell ill almost immediately upon his arrival and had to return to Portugal by boat. He was caught up in a huge storm en route and sought refuge on the island of Sicily, where he was cared for by Franciscans. Eventually he made his way to Assisi to meet St. Francis himself.

As the Franciscans soon discovered, St. Anthony had a gift for preaching. He often had to deliver his sermons in the open air, because the crowds he attracted were so large that no church could hold them. According to legend, when a group of heretics refused to hear what he had to say, he addressed himself to the fish instead, who poked their heads up out of the water to listen. Although the exact origin of the association is uncertain, St. Anthony is primarily remembered for his ability to restore lost things. An ancient Portuguese story claims it was St. Anthony who, when a book of chants was stolen from a monastery, inspired the thief to return it. Today, people pray to St. Anthony when they have lost or misplaced something.

St. Anthony died at the age of thirty-six on June 13, 1231, and was buried in Padua, where a basilica was erected in his honor and still houses his relics. He was canonized as a saint in 1232. His feast day is celebrated not only in Italy but also in Portugal, where he is the patron saint of Lisbon. Groups of singers and musicians, known as marchas, parade along the Avenida da Liberdade on the eve of St. Anthony's Day, while children make altars decorated with candles and pictures of the saint and beg for money that is used to pay for a children's feast (see ST . ANTHONY ' S BREAD ).

The basis of saint day remembrances is found in ancient Roman tradition. On the anniversary of a death, families would share a ritual meal at the grave site of an ancestor. This practice was adopted by Christians who began observing a ritual meal on the death anniversary of ancestors in the faith, especially martyrs. As a result, most Christian saint days are associated with the death of the saint. There are three important exceptions. John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus are honored on their nativities (birthdays). Many who suffered martyrdom are remembered on saint days in the calendars of several Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sects.

In the United States, the Feast of St. Anthony is observed primarily by Native Americans in the Southwest, who celebrate with traditional Indian dances, and by the inhabitants of New York City's Greenwich Village, where the Shrine Church of St. Anthony, the city's oldest Italian church, sponsors a ten-day outdoor festival.


Blessing the Animals

As the patron saint of animals, St. Anthony has much in common with his friend and spiritual mentor, St. Francis of Assisi. In Rome, back in the days before cars became the standard mode of transportation, people used to bring their horses and mules to St. Anthony's Church on June 13 to be blessed.

Brides of St. Anthony

St. Anthony is also known as the "wedding saint," and in Padua it was customary at one time for all the single women in town to dress in white robes on the evening of June 12 and walk through the city streets while praying to St. Anthony for a husband. Nowadays only very young girls participate in the procession.

In Lisbon, "St. Anthony's Day weddings" are held in the town hall on June 13. Although this is a tradition that was discontinued for a number of years, it has been revived recently as a way of encouraging young couples to move to the city after they marry, rather than raising their families in the suburbs. Young women who hope to marry soon visit St. Anthony shrines, where they offer flowers, candles, and photographs of their boyfriends. Another Portuguese tradition is to write letters to St. Anthony requesting that he send a suitable mate. Much like letters to Santa Claus at CHRISTMAS, they are dropped in a special box on St. Anthony's feast day.

St. Anthony's Bread

Begging and donating money have long been associated with the Feast of St. Anthony. When the church known as San António da Sé in Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, the city's children began collecting money to rebuild it. They set up altars on the street, decorated with pictures of the saint, flowers, candles, and cut paper decorations, and begged "a little penny for Santo António" from passersby. The existing church, which was completed in 1812, was largely paid for by these contributions.

In the nineteenth century, according to legend, a young woman in France asked St. Anthony for a favor, promising that if he granted it she would donate loaves of bread to the poor. This gave rise to the practice of giving money or alms, referred to as "St. Anthony's Bread," to the poor on June 13. Donation boxes for the poor with this label can still be found in French churches.


Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. 1958. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Weiser, Franz Xaver. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.


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