On the Saint of Padua for his
Memorial, 13 June
"Tony, Tony, turn around", goes an old couplet,
"something's lost and must be found".
The Tony in this rhyme is St Anthony of Padua, and if
the tone seems casual it may be because Anthony is among the most
popular of saints.
The Franciscan, whose feast day is 13 June, the date of
his death in 1231, is well known to the devout and the worldly alike as
the "finder of lost articles". In this capacity, he has been invoked for
eight centuries, often in the more reverent words composed by his fellow
friar, Julian of Spires:
"The sea obeys, and fetters break, and lifeless limbs
thou dost restore, while treasures lost are found again when young and
old thy aid implore".
St Anthony became associated with lost articles because
he himself is said to have lost, and regained, a book of Psalms in which
he had made notes to use in his teaching.
According to this widely accepted story, the book was
taken by a novice who had decided to leave the Franciscan community in
which Anthony taught. Anthony prayed that the Psalter would turn up, and
it did —
along with the errant novice, who returned to the Franciscan
Of course, there was much more to St. Anthony's life
than the incident that made him famous, so to speak.
He was born Fernando Martins de Bulhoes in August 1195
in Lisbon, Portugal. In fact, in his native country he is called St
Anthony of Lisbon. His parents, wealthy members of the nobility,
intended him for a career in the Church, although they did not have in
mind the kind of career he chose.
After studying at the cathedral school in Lisbon, he
brushed aside any notion of a prestigious post and at 15 joined the
Canons Regular of St Augustine, a strict community housed outside the
city walls. It turned out that this move was not far enough to suit the
young man, because his study and prayer were repeatedly disrupted by
visits from his friends and relatives.
Two years later, therefore, he got permission to
relocate to the mother house of his congregation, located in Coimbra,
195 km north of Lisbon. He remained there for eight years. During that
time, Ferdinand was impressed by a group of Franciscans who took up
residence in the area in a hermitage dedicated to St Anthony of Egypt, a
3rd century hermit.
Then, in 1220, Ferdinand witnessed the return to Coimbra
of the bodies of five Franciscans whom he had met the year before and
who had been executed while preaching in Morocco. Ferdinand
who had grown up among Muslim people in Lisbon
decided to go to Morocco himself, and he joined the Order of Friars
Minor, adopting the name Anthony.
He did go to Africa in 1221, soon became chronically
ill, and sailed again for Portugal, but his ship ran into bad weather
and was grounded on the coast of Sicily. While he was recuperating,
Anthony learned that a general Pentecost chapter of the friars would be
held that spring in Assisi, so he travelled there.
After Assisi, he joined a community of friars near Forli
in the Emilia-Romagna region in northeast Italy. It was a pivotal event
in his life. Anthony might have remained an obscure friar in the
out-of-the-way monastery were it not for an ordination rite scheduled to
take place there with a large number of Dominican monks on hand. Through
a breakdown in planning, no homilist had been assigned for the liturgy,
and the Dominicans objected that they were not prepared to preach.
The superior turned to Anthony who agreed more out of
obedience than out of confidence and, after a halting start, he
delivered an eloquent homily that had a dramatic impact. After this
incident, the minister provincial dispatched Anthony to preach
throughout the region of Lombardy, and he built a lasting reputation for
the content and presentation of his homilies, illuminating the
scriptures, denouncing heresy, and calling for social justice.
Anthony also had an intermittent career as a teacher of
young friars after getting Francis of Assisi to endorse the idea in
1224. Francis, at that point, was wary of anything that might undermine
the core ideals of Franciscan life
fraternity among the friars and commitment to the poor. His concern was
expressed in his answer to Anthony:
"It pleases me that you should teach sacred theology to
the brothers as long as
in the words of the rule
'you do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion with study of
Anthony did teach at Bologna, and at Montpellier and
Toulouse in the south of France. Ultimately, Anthony joined a small
group of friars outside Padua between Venice and Verona, and he
influenced local authorities to establish a relief program for people
who were heavily in debt.
During Lent in 1231, he preached at several locations in
Padua each day. Exhausted, he retired to a hermitage outside the town,
but he contracted a serious illness and died at the age of 36.
Numerous miracles were attributed to him, and Pope
Gregory IX declared him a saint less than a year later
30 May 1232. Anthony's remains were placed in 1236 in the Basilica of
Saint Anthony in Padua, which was still under construction.
This man, who died 773 years ago, is one of the most
familiar figures in Christian art. Since the 17th century, he has been
portrayed in paintings and statues holding the infant Jesus, a lily, or
both. There has been a great deal of speculation about the significance
of these traditions, including an apparition of the infant while Anthony
was engaged in solitary prayer and the symbolic association of the lily
with purity, innocence and integrity.