Courtesy of Turisimo De Lisboa
The story of Anthony preaching to fishwho pay
close attention in contrast to the people of Rimini,
Italyis depicted in azulejos (tiles).
Antoninho: Little St. Anthony is the pet name of the
great St. Anthony in Portugal. Rightly so!
Anthony was little, Lisbon was home to him. He belongs to
Portugal in his birth, in his education, in his entry into
religious life and in his introduction to the Franciscans.
Every now and then, the Portuguese reassert their claim
on the man many assume to be Italian and connect with Padua.
a small museum adjacent to the church now standing on the
legendary site of Anthony’s birth can be found many, many
images—artworks and ashtrays, long-ago treasures and 800th-anniversary
mugs. Among the eclectic treasures are commemorative china
plates with an attitude. Roughly translated, the motto inscribed
on one plate reads, “Whoever says Anthony is of Padua has
never been a good citizen of Portugal. Our little saint
is of Lisbon! This should settle it once and for all!”
Anthony Messenger traveled to Lisbon and Coimbra, the
two Portuguese cities where Anthony lived, to gain a sense
of the saint’s origins and how they may have shaped him.
In both cities, there is abundant evidence that St. Anthony
lives on in popular culture and prayer.
City Toward the Sea
Anthony was baptized Fernando Bulhom in Lisbon’s (Lisboa
to its residents) cathedral around 1195. The nation into
which he was born had been unified only 50 years earlier
and was still defending its borders from the Moors of North
Africa, who had occupied the Iberian peninsula for 450 years.
Coimbra was Portugal’s capital at the time of Fernando’s
of the Lisbon the young Fernando knew was demolished in
the Great Earthquake—followed by a fire which was followed
by a tidal wave—on November 1, 1755. Yet it is still possible
to gain a sense of the city where Antoninho was born.
The city perches on steep hills overlooking the Tagus (Tejo)
River, the largest river on the Iberian peninsula, flowing
from Spain into the Atlantic.
surely looked up from the home he shared with his parents
(about whom we know too little) to the Castle of St. George
(Castelo de São Jorge). This castle was wrested from
the Moors to become the residence of the earliest Portuguese
royalty. As a boy, he probably walked up to the castle to
gain perspective on the Tagus River and on his own neighborhood,
the Alfama. The high Moorish parapets, reconstructed in
the 20th century, command a magnificent view.
Fernando’s day, the Alfama was Lisbon’s oldest and most
prestigious neighborhood. Its streets are still the narrow,
twisting labyrinth they were when the saint was a youth.
Today, it is fashionably run-down but open for tourists.
Last fall, the garlands, streamers and pennants hung in
June to honor Anthony still hung—faded yet cheerful. Antoninho
is Lisbon’s first son all year round.
open-air patios or deeper in tiny taverns and neighborhood
restaurants, it is easy to taste the cuisine Anthony may
have eaten: fish, to be certain, especially dried, salted
cod (bacalhau). You could order cod with eggs, as
I did, or codcakes, cod with potatoes and onions—or the
specialty of the house, which would be cod.
I was assured that each little tavern has its own distinctive
way to prepare cod, nowadays caught off the Grand Banks or
in Greenland’s Davis Straits by Portuguese fishermen, then
dried and salted for the journey home. On such expeditions,
the crew has plenty of time—and incentive—to experiment with
101 ways to rehydrate and prepare the fish.
Fernando may have enjoyed his mother’s special recipe—and
later missed it, as any international traveler longs for
his native cuisine. I like to think so.
books compare the Alfama to the Casbah (as in “Come with
me to the...”). In other words, it’s a mysterious maze where
tourists often find themselves back where they were just
Looking for Traces
key places in the life of the man we call Anthony of Padua
are in this maze: his birthplace, the cathedral where he
was baptized (and where he attended the cathedral school)
and the monastery which he entered to become an Augustinian
canon. None of these is the original structure, but at least
the last two are in the same location as in Fernando’s youth.
John Paul II has visited and prayed at the site where Fernando
Bulhom was born, a little niche beneath a church built in
Anthony’s honor (Santo António à Sé). The stone walls
of that tiny undercroft bear hundreds of written endearments
and thanksgivings to the saint, a kind of holy graffiti
in a host of languages. The present church, built in 1812,
was financed by alms collected by the children of Lisbon.
the church itself, votive after votive is lit beneath a
painting of St. Anthony, while petitions and thanksgivings
are tucked into the picture’s frame. Floral offerings are
added in generous bouquets to a pail in front of this image
The cathedral (Sé) of Lisbon is just a block away
from Anthony’s home. In fact, one can see its twin towers
from the courtyard of Santo António. It looks like
a defensive fortress. The baptismal font, said to be the original,
is in an alcove to the left inside the main entrance. Today
this alcove is lined with the distinctive blue tiles (azulejos)
peculiar to Portugal. These depict the story of Anthony preaching
to the fish. The cathedral itself is new, though legend says
that a cross recessed into the stone of a stairway to the
right of the entrance was drawn there by the finger of Fernando.
Vincent’s Outside the Walls (São Vicente de Fora)
is a considerable distance from these first two churches.
It is to this site (though not to the current white limestone,
Italianate buildings) that Fernando came around 1210 to
become a Canon of St. Augustine. St. Vincent is one of Lisbon’s
two patron saints (the other being Anthony, of course).
The city’s coat of arms includes the waves of the sea, a
ship and two ravens to honor this early patron and protector.
reputed to be those of the Spanish Vincent were brought
to Lisbon by boat in 1173. Two ravens, reminiscent of the
raven which defended his martyred body from scavengers,
accompanied the boat which carried the relics to the monastery.
Local lore says that descendants of those ravens lived in
the towers of St. Vincent’s for centuries afterward, though
none remain today.
could young Fernando not have been influenced and inspired
by the stories of Lisbon’s patron? Vincent was a preacher
who inspired and a martyr who suffered torments beyond human
capacity to bear. It may have been then and there that the
young religious resolved to be both preacher and martyr
himself. It may have been as he prayed near the relics of
this hero that he determined to seek a more austere and
secluded life in the city of Coimbra, about 100 miles north
Seeking Silence in Coimbra
is also on a river, but it was not the water that drew Anthony.
The city was Portugal’s capital (1139-1290) when Fernando
Bulhom petitioned to move to the principal house of the
Portuguese Augustinians located there. It was here at the
Convent of Santa Cruz that Fernando’s hunger for learning
was cultivated by a well-stocked library and good teachers.
move to Coimbra around 1212 is evidence that Fernando, like
the Portuguese seafarers of a later era, was also an explorer—a
spiritual discoverer. He had discovered that he hungered
for knowledge and required silence to mull over this knowledge
in prayer and contemplation. It was this that he sought
old town of Coimbra still exists, its steep and narrow streets
tangled much like Lisbon’s Alfama, crowded together with
monuments from the era of Antonio Salazar, Portugal’s longtime
dictator (1932-1968) and former teacher of economics at
the University of Coimbra. Fernando Bulhom may not have
learned any economics in Coimbra, but he read widely in
theology, natural history, anatomy and etymology. He studied,
among others, Augustine and Aristotle, Jerome and Cicero,
Pliny and Bernard of Clairvaux.
Santa Cruz holds remnants of the monastery Fernando once
knew. Though the library shelves are empty and the choir
unoccupied by praying monks, the staircase may well have
known his footsteps. The enclosed garden mixes Portugal’s
famous Manueline architectural style with earlier, simpler
arches under which the searching student may have stood—wondering
where his search might lead.
Cruz holds the tombs of Portugal’s first two kings, Afonso
I and Sancho I. Don Pedro, brother and rival to Afonso II,
gave Santa Cruz the relics that inspired Fernando to make
a radical change in his life: the remains of the first Franciscan
martyrs—Berard, Peter, Adjutus, Accursius and Otto. These
friars had been martyred in Morocco in January of 1220.
their leader, Francis of Assisi, this was good news: friars
who lived the gospel as fully as Jesus had preached it,
laying down even their lives. To Fernando, the arrival of
these martyrs’ bones was a challenge to his religious life.
Should he remain a Canon of St. Augustine—or should he leave
the safety of the cloister to become a martyr, like these
a nearby hillside, other Franciscans lived at a little church
dedicated to St. Anthony of Egypt. These friars came to
Coimbra seeking alms and knocked on the door at Santa Cruz
when Fernando was the porter. It seemed a summons to him,
and he answered—with his life. He decided to become a Franciscan
and, he hoped, a martyr.
took the name Anthony, after the church where he
first lived as a Franciscan. By year’s end, he was gone
from Portugal. He would never return during his lifetime.
Celebrating Its Saint
say that Anthony left Portugal behind minimizes his ancestry.
The man who became known to many as Anthony of Padua was
Portuguese. He was a spiritual seaman, seeking new lands
of the soul, just as other Portuguese explorers ventured
into unknown waters. He traveled first to Morocco, where
illness prevented his missionary expedition, though his
heart embraced the Moors—with whom he wanted to share the
good news of Jesus.
had the broad worldview of a discoverer—and became a fearless
missionary traveling through northern Italy and southern
France on foot. His compass was the Word of God.
Anthony is well-known in his native land and is formally
known there as St. Anthony of Lisbon. Tourists eager to
hear fado, the emotion-laden, dramatic music particular
to Portugal, are likely to find an image of Anthony right
behind the fadista (singer) and instrumentalists.
Fado came long after Anthony, but its major theme
is nostalgia and longing—for what is lost and for what has
never been gained. Anthony fits right into this scene.
abound in June. June 12, the eve of the saint’s feast, is
marked by a costume parade on the broad expanse of the Avenida
da Liberdade (Liberty Avenue). Lisbon’s neighborhoods
compete against one another, with the Alfama quarter gaining
the victory last year. Along the parade route, bonfires
are built and everybody cooks. Grilled sardines with sangria
the feast itself, June 13, many couples marry. Traditionally,
the town hall sponsors the weddings of poor couples, providing
a reception for them. Last June 13, 2,000 of these so-called
brides of St. Anthony were wed at the town hall.
paper lanterns, streamers, pennants and banners are hung
throughout the Alfama and along the parade route. Pots of
basil are displayed on every balcony and often given as
gifts, together with little verses invoking St. Anthony—or,
more recently, love and affection for the recipient!
beg coins for candles to honor St. Anthony. In earlier times,
they used the coins to buy fireworks! In the St. Anthony
Museum, examples of elaborate thrones or altars to Anthony
are part of the display. This tradition, reminiscent of
May altars in miniature, continues today, with dried flowers,
plastic and paper flowers, tiny vases and candles all pressed
For All Times and All Places
saint called Antoninho is woven into the daily life
of even secular citizens of Lisbon and other Portuguese
cities. As my Portuguese guide and interpreter, Maria Teresa
Ferreira, expressed it, “To eat and drink in honor of Antoninho
is to celebrate human things in his honor. Anthony is present
in marriages, in children asking for a coin. Anthony is
always with us, not only when we pray. He is outside in
the streets as well.”
visitors’ brochure at St. Anthony Museum says, “St. Anthony
is considered to be the protector of souls in purgatory,
propitiator of happy marriages, defender of animals, witch-doctor,
defender of lost property, and many other miraculous configurations
of popular imagination.”
1888, Portugal’s most famous poet was born in Lisbon on
the feast of St. Anthony and named Fernando António Pessoa.
By no stretch could anyone call the poet a Christian believer,
yet his well-loved work occasionally evokes the attitude
of his patron saint: “It is not I whom I depict. I am the
canvas, a hidden hand/Colors somebody on me./I placed my
soul within the bond of losing it,/And my beginning flowered
as an End.”
On the canvas that is Lisbon, Anthony is colored large. Azulejo
images of Anthony adorn even modest thresholds in the Alfama.
Of him, the Portuguese poet’s words ring true: “[God] Who
blessed you made you Portuguese.” And Portugal, having established
its proud claim, celebrates St. Anthony’s feast once more
on June 13.
this month of celebration, it’s difficult to believe that
Antoninho ever left the city of his birth. He surely can
be found there now.
Carol Ann Morrow, assistant managing editor of this magazine,
has twice traveled to Portugal and Italy in the footsteps
of St. Anthony. On both visits, she was part of a pilgrimage
sponsored by the Franciscan Development Office of the Franciscan
friars of St. John the Baptist Province. She has contributed
other articles about St. Anthony to this magazine and her
Retreat With Anthony of Padua: Finding Our Way, is
published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. For information
on Franciscan pilgrimages, visit the Franciscan
Pilgrimage Web site.