By Deke Mills
Photos: D. Mills unless stated otherwise
The sharing of the blessed bread

The sharing of the blessed bread

Fiestas are essential to keeping old traditions and customs alive especially in a mega city like Madrid where life is moving at a real fast pace. We truly need to pause at times to remember our glorious past and customs. AND ENJOY THEM. So it goes with the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua (San Antonio de Padua). On Friday the 13th of June, in the Madrid barrio of La Florida, the celebrations officially began with a midday mass to honor the saint at the small eighteenth-century neoclassical church bearing his name and the location, the Hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida. This was followed by the blessing of the bread (ready to be distributed to the devotees who would be turning up in large numbers). The relics of the saint were on display too. Then came the procession of the image of the saint borne through the neighboring streets.

Elsewhere in the city, like celebrations were held but La Florida was central.



Alfama (Photo: Nicolas Vollmer, CC BY2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The would-be saint, philosopher, preacher and theologian was born Fernando Martim de Bulhöes e Taviera Azevado into an affluent Portuguese family in 1195 in Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. At fifteen after finishing high school young Fernando joined the Augustinian Order in Coimbra, against his parents´ wishes, after hearing the voice of God like Florence Nightingale did.

Early on he was a much-disciplined man spending long hours praying and memorizing the Holy Scriptures. He also took up theology and Latin. The time he spent meditating and studying would stand him in good stead many years later.

On the move

Fernando would not stay put in one place. Soon he entered the Franciscan order and made the acquaintance of the friars who had studied under St. Anthony of Egypt (251 A.D. – 356 A.D.).  He had started out as an ascetic in a  community where  the Desert Fathers (also Desert Nuns later on)  who had renounced their worldly treasures lived a life of poverty in the desert

Soon Fernando adopted the name of the founder of the desert ascetics and on attaining sainthood he came to be known as San Antonio Abad — in Spain, that is — and more universally as San Antonio de Padua.

The gift of the gab

The chance meeting in 1221 with St. Francis de Assisi at a congregation attended by 300 monks of the General Chapter of Assisi proved to be a turning point in St. Anthony´s life. Since he had a way of getting a message across easily the Italian saint encouraged him to become an orator. And there began St. Anthony’s career as a great preacher.

Illness and Fate

St. Anthony traveled to Morocco where he contracted malaria. Reluctantly he set sail for home but destiny apparently had other plans for him. The ship was caught in a tempest and the strong winds eventually took the vessel to Sicily.

After a stint in France as a teacher, St Anthony realized that he was better at preaching and returned to the pulpit. Overcome by fatigue and illness in 1231 whilst traveling St. Anthony made a stopover at the Poor Clare monastery in Arcella, now part of Padua, Italy where he died.

Though he was struck down at the young age of 35 St. Anthony influenced the thinking of future speakers of the Word and canonization did not take long .In 1232 he gained sainthood. In 1263 the City of Padua constructed a Basilica where his mortal remains are preserved.

Patron saint

St. Anthony is the patron saint of many places and also of the sailors, workers, the unemployed, the mail, and missing people amongst others, and is restorer of lost objects.

The image of San Antonio at the entrance of the church in La Florida, Madrid. Phot: D. Mills

The image of San Antonio at the entrance of the church in La Florida, Madrid

There is a story about St. Anthony´s psalm book that went missing. He wrote down lots of notes on it and wanted it back. So he prayed hard. Miraculously the book was returned by a young novice who was pardoned and readmitted to the order.

St. Anthony is revered in Tamil Nadu, south of India, and in Poona, the headquarters of the British Army. Devotees of all religions  repair to St. Anthony’s shrine on Tuesdays  to pray and are given a piece of  blessed bread to be shared with their loved ones.

His Feast Day is celebrated in South America and is also marked in the U.S. especially in New York and San Antonio, Texas where the Payaya Indians still worship him on the site where the first Spanish settlement was founded in the seventeenth century. In Brazil, Portugal and Peru girls of marriageable age invoke the saint’s assistance by placing his medal upside down until they find a partner!

Madrid celebrates the saint’s feast like no other
At the fiesta. Photo: Deke Mills

At the fiesta