Over the years the fiesta of San Antonio de Padua in Madrid has gained a humorous note. Busy as he was with religion, St. Anthony found time to assist young people (it used to be just seamstresses but now it’s women from all walks of life, and even men) who are desperately seeking a partner. To avail of the saintly assistance one will have to follow an odd ritual on 13th June: An empty baptismal font is chained to a tree outside the Herrmitage of San Antonio in La Florida, northern Madrid. From around midday up to the evening the girls pitch thirteen pins into the font and then place their palm gently inside. The number of suitors they would be having depends on the amount of pins that stick to their hands!
Why 13? The number is attributed to St. Anthony´s Feast Day in June. It also refers to the thirteen arras, the wedding unity coins handed to the bride by the bridegroom as a token of his love and fidelity.
Actually there’s a short cut to the ritual. Since hundreds of pins will have been thrown into the font as the day wears on, one does not have to throw more in. All one has to do is pass one’s palm over the pins that are already in the font.
The custom is the offshoot of Anthony’s having brought a couple back together after being parted for a time.
This year, as in the past and conceivably in the futre too, the celebrations were held on and around the plaza next to the hermitage. Religious rites and plain revelry are thrown into an unbeatable mix that so characterize the exuberant Spanish fiestas. The inevitable food stalls and an amusement park were set up. Dancing competition was held. Elderly judges sitting on a high platform watched the couples in period costume dancing to the music of such nostalgic hits as Luisa Fernanda´s “Mazurca de las Sombrillas”, some zarzuelas (light musical comedies) and “San Antonio de La Florida,” a popular libretto by Isaac Albeniz. They chose the best dancer.
Forming the backdrop for the merriment was if course the religious feast day of the saint which entailed some rites: the holy mass, the procession, the blessing and sharing of the bread. . .
What makes the La Florida celebrations the most important among the other celebrations in the city is that the Hermitage keeps some relics of St. Anthony’s. Besides, the frescoes painted by Francisco de Goya in the Hermitage, depicting the miracles performed by St. Anthony, are the only Goya paintings on site, as opposed to his paintings transported to museums. What’s more, Goya is buried in the Hermitage.
The place is monumnetal in many ways and so are the celebrations.
The image of San Antonio de la Florida at the altar of the Hermitage before it was taken out for the religious procession
The tomb of Goya, the last of the Old Masters (1746-(1828), in the Hermitage
Those who came, who saw, who conquered even sitting down in the leafy shade of the park
Those who danced
Those who sought love at the font
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