EVERYWHERE St. Anthony is asked to intercede with God for the return of
things lost or stolen. Those who feel very familiar with him may pray, "Tony,
Tony, turn around. Something's lost and must be found."
The reason for invoking St. Anthony's help in finding lost or stolen things
is traced back to an incident in his own life. As the story goes, Anthony
had a book of psalms that was very important to him. Besides the value of
any book before the invention of printing, the psalter had the notes and
comments he had made to use in teaching students in his Franciscan Order.
A novice who had already grown tired of living religious life decided
to depart the community. Besides going AWOL he also took Anthony's psalter!
Upon realizing his psalter was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found
or returned to him. And after his prayer the thieving novice was moved to
return the psalter to Anthony and return to the Order which accepted him
back. Legend has embroidered this story a bit. It has the novice stopped
in his flight by a horrible devil brandishing an ax and threatening to trample
him underfoot if he did not immediately return the book. Obviously a devil
would hardly command anyone to do something good. But the core of the story
would seem to be true. And the stolen book is said to be preserved in the
Franciscan friary in Bologna.
In any event, shortly after his death people began praying through Anthony
to find or recover lost and stolen articles. And the Responsory of St. Anthony
composed by his contemporary, Julian of Spires, O.F.M., proclaims, "The
sea obeys and fetters break/And lifeless limbs thou dost restore/While treasures
lost are found again/When young or old thine aid implore."
Anthony and the Child Jesus
St. Anthony has been pictured by artists and sculptors in all kinds of
ways. He is depicted with a book in his hands, with a lily or torch. He
has been painted preaching to fish, holding a monstrance with the Blessed
Sacrament in front of a mule or preaching in the public square or from a
But since the 17th century we most often find the saint shown with the
child Jesus in his arm or even with the child standing on a book the saint
holds. A story about St. Anthony related in the complete edition of Butler's
Lives of the Saints (edited, revised and supplemented by Herbert Anthony
Thurston, S.J., and Donald Attwater) projects back into the past a visit
of Anthony to the Lord of Chatenauneuf. Anthony was praying far into the
night when suddenly the room was filled with light more brilliant than the
sun. Jesus then appeared to St. Anthony under the form of a little child.
Chatenauneuf, attracted by the brilliant light that filled his house, was
drawn to witness the vision but promised to tell no one of it until after
St. Anthony's death.
Some may see a similarity and connection between this story and the story
in the life of St. Francis when he reenacted at Greccio the story of Jesus,
and the Christ Child became alive in his arms. There are other accounts
of appearances of the child Jesus to Francis and some companions.
These stories link Anthony with Francis in a sense of wonder and awe concerning
the mystery of Christ's incarnation. They speak of a fascination with the
humility and vulnerability of Christ who emptied himself to become one like
us in all things except sin. For Anthony, like Francis, poverty was a way
of imitating Jesus who was born in a stable and would have no place to lay
of Sailors, Travelers
In Portugal, Italy, France and Spain, St. Anthony is the patron saint of
sailors and fishermen. According to some biographers his statue is sometimes
placed in a shrine on the ship's mast. And the sailors sometimes scold him
if he doesn't respond quickly enough to their prayers.
Not only those who travel the seas but also other travelers and vacationers
pray that they may be kept safe because of Anthony's intercession. Several
stories and legends may account for associating the saint with travelers
First, there is the very real fact of Anthony's own travels in preaching
the gospel, particularly his journey and mission to preach the gospel in
Morocco, a mission cut short by severe illness. But after his recovery and
return to Europe he was a man always on the go, heralding the Good News.
There is also a story of two Franciscan sisters who wished to make a pilgrimage
to a shrine of our Lady but did not know the way. A young man is supposed
to have volunteered to guide them. Upon their return from the pilgrimage
one of the sisters announced that it was her patron saint, Anthony, who
had guided them.
Still another story says that in 1647 Father Erastius Villani of Padua
was returning by ship to Italy from Amsterdam. The ship with its crew and
passengers was caught in a violent storm. All seemed doomed. Father Erastius
encouraged everyone to pray to St. Anthony. Then he threw some pieces of
cloth that had touched a relic of St. Anthony into the heaving seas. At
once, the storm ended, the winds stopped and the sea became calm.
of the Scriptures
Among the Franciscans themselves and in the liturgy of his feast, St. Anthony
is celebrated as a teacher and preacher extraordinaire. He was the first
teacher in the Franciscan Order, given the special approval and blessing
of St. Francis to instruct his brother Franciscans. His effectiveness as
a preacher calling people back to the faith resulted in the title "Hammer
of Heretics." Just as important were his peacemaking and calls for
In canonizing Anthony in 1232, Pope Gregory IX spoke of him as the "Ark
of the Testament" and the "Repository of Holy Scripture."
That explains why St. Anthony is frequently pictured with a burning light
or a book of the Scriptures in his hands. In 1946 Pope Pius XII officially
declared Anthony a Doctor of the Universal Church. It is in Anthony's love
of the word of God and his prayerful efforts to understand and apply it
to the situations of everyday life that the Church especially wants us to
imitate St. Anthony. While noting in the prayer of his feast Anthony's effectiveness
as an intercessor, the Church wants us to learn from Anthony, the teacher,
the meaning of true wisdom and what it means to become like Jesus, who humbled
and emptied himself for our sakes and went about doing good.