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Anthony of Padua: The Portugal Years
By Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
In 2006, our senior editor accompained 40 pilgrims to visit shrines connected to St. Anthony's life in Portugal.

Q U I C K S C A N

His Birthplace
Lisbon Cathedral, Where He Was Baptized
Augustinian Monastery of St. Vincent
Monastery of Santa Cruz


PHOTO BY JACK WINTZ, O.F.M.

TO THE PEOPLE of Portugal, the saint that most of the world calls Anthony of Padua is better known as Anthony of Lisbon. If we accept 1195 as his date of birth, as most historians do, this means that Anthony spent about 25 years of his life in Portugal, compared to only 10 or 11 in Italy. No wonder the people of Portugal claim Anthony as their saint—even if he spent his later years in Italy, dying near Padua on June 13, 1231.

During four days in Portugal last spring (May 16-19), our tour group focused its attention on four key shrines.

His Birthplace

Our first stop in Lisbon was at Anthony’s place of birth. Anthony, whose original name was Fernando Bulhom, was born into a noble and influential family. His home stood only a block away from the Lisbon Cathedral.

Fernando’s birthplace is still an important pilgrimage destination in Lisbon. Thousands of pilgrims from around the world visit the saint’s birthplace each month in a niche below the Church of Santo António. One of the shrine’s most famous visitors in recent decades was Pope John Paul II, who made a stop there on May 12, 1982, on his way to Fatima.

Our group of pilgrims was able to celebrate Eucharist in this church and afterward climb down the stairs in small groups to visit the little niche marking the place where Fernando, the future Anthony, was born.

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Lisbon Cathedral, Where He Was Baptized

Our next stop was Lisbon’s 12th-century cathedral, which stands only a block up the street from Fernando’s birthplace. Here we gazed at the same font where Fernando was baptized and which is still used today. Because his parents were devout Catholics and people of means, Fernando was able to attend the cathedral school and receive a fine Christian education from the priests who taught there.

We strolled through part of the district known as the Alfama, the neighborhood that surrounded Fernando’s home. In his day, the Alfama was Lisbon’s most attractive neighborhood. And its twisting maze of narrow and hilly streets, open patios, taverns and restaurants is still appealing to tourists today.

If Fernando ever hiked to the top of the hills high above his home, and he probably did, he would eventually reach the Castle of St. George (Castelo São Jorge). This castle became the residence of the earliest Portuguese royalty after it was regained from the Moors. Tourists visiting this castle and historic surroundings today can enjoy a magnificent view of the Tagus River, from which the Portuguese mariners of long ago sailed out to the farthest corners of the world.

Augustinian Monastery of St. Vincent

On the outskirts of Lisbon in Fernando’s day, but not too far from his birthplace, stood the Church and Monastery of St. Vincent. In 1210 at age 15, Fernando made the dramatic decision to leave home and enter this monastery of the Augustinians.

Our pilgrimage in Lisbon included a visit to the Church of St. Vincent. The building that we entered and briefly toured was not the same building that Fernando knew. But the large structure still bears the name of St. Vincent and was rebuilt over the same location where Fernando had searched for God as an aspiring friar.

After spending two years at St. Vincent’s, Fernando asked his prior if he could be transferred to another monastery where he might find a better climate for prayer and contemplation. He believed his search for God was being compromised in Lisbon because old chums kept trying to visit him at the monastery. Fernando requested to be transferred to the Augustinian Monastery of Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) in the city of Coimbra. There he hoped to encounter a greater spirit of tranquillity and fewer distractions.

Monastery of Santa Cruz

When Fernando arrived in Coimbra, 100 miles north of Lisbon, and entered this well-known monastery, he was really entering the most important cultural center in all of Portugal. Coimbra was then Portugal’s capital city. Santa Cruz, with its well-stocked library and excellent teachers, was a center of Christian learning that could compete with the great Augustinian monasteries of France.

Historians believe that Fernando lived at Santa Cruz for about eight years. The young Augustinian friar advanced in his understanding of theology and the spiritual life. Here he absorbed the sacred Scriptures that became the heart of his sermons as a Franciscan. It is commonly believed that Fernando was ordained in this church as an Augustinian priest.

Santa Cruz has been rebuilt more than once over the centuries. Yet our group of pilgrims was still able to tour parts of the original monastery that Fernando would have known. Among these were the sacristy, the chapter room, the monastery gardens and the arched corridors that border the gardens.

In 1220, Ferdinand’s life took a surprising turn. It happened that the relics of five Franciscan martyrs, who had been beheaded earlier that year in Morocco for preaching the gospel to the Muslims, were carried into Coimbra amidst great publicity and fervor. In fact, the relics ended up in the Monastery of Santa Cruz, where they have been safely kept and held in high esteem. They are still venerated there. Our group had a chance to see them during our visit and to reflect on their effect upon the life of St. Anthony. Today, the relics are stored inside two small silvery busts of Franciscan friars. They are on public display in a small niche at the end of a corridor off the sacristy.

Fernando, too, pondered the great faith and heroism of these Franciscan martyrs. He was 25 years of age. A strong desire grew within him to follow in their footsteps, to go to Morocco himself and become a martyr for Christ.

He would soon have a chance to act upon this desire. One of Fernando’s responsibilities at Santa Cruz was that of showing hospitality to visitors who came to the monastery’s front door. A group of Franciscan friars, who lived at the nearby Church of St. Anthony, often showed up at the monastery door to ask for alms. On one occasion, Anthony spoke earnestly to them about his desire to become a Franciscan friar so that he, too, could be sent to Morocco to become a martyr for Christ.

The Franciscan friars assured him that this was possible and—to make a long story short—Fernando, the Augustinian, became Anthony, the Franciscan. He took his new name from the little church where the friars stayed and where he himself would stay for a time—a church named after St. Anthony of the Desert. Before long, Anthony set sail for Morocco—never to return to his beloved Portugal.

Anthony’s formative years in Portugal were extremely important for this courageous native son. Very likely, Anthony would have never become a great teacher and evangelizer—or saintly friar and Doctor of the Church—had it not been for the opportunities of education, religious training and profound spiritual growth that shaped his early life in Portugal, the land of his birth.

Father Jack’s pilgrimage to St. Anthony shrines in Portugal was arranged by Pentecost Tours of Batesville, Indiana (telephone: 800-713-9800; Web site: www.pentecosttours.com).


Jack Wintz, O.F.M., has been a writer and editor at St. Anthony Messenger since 1972. His book Anthony of Padua: Saint of the People (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005) is now in its second printing.

 


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