San Antonio de Padua
Feast Day: June 13
Patron of shipwrecked people, sterile and pregnant women, and women seeking husbands. Special patron of sailors and fishermen throughout Portugal, Italy, and Spain. Patron saint of Padua, Italy.
Invoked for aid in finding lost objects.
Essay by Karen S. Billings
Saint Anthony, christened Fernando Martins de Bulhões, was born in 1195 to a prominent family in Lisbon, Portugal. At the age of 15, he joined the Order of St. Augustine and devoted the next 10 years to intense study and preparation for the priesthood. In 1220, inspired by the return of the remains of the first Franciscan martyrs to Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal, Fernando left the Augustinians, joined the Franciscans, changed his name to Anthony, and sailed for Morocco in hopes of becoming a martyr himself. Shortly after arriving in North Africa, Anthony became gravely ill and eventually decided to return home. His ship was blown off course, and he eventually washed up on the coast of Sicily. There, local Franciscans nursed him back to health, after which he traveled to northern Italy to seek further instruction in the “Franciscan life.” In 1221, he met Saint Francis, who recognized his intellect and assigned him to be a “Preaching Friar” in northern Italy and, later, in southern France. Finally, ill from overwork and the strains of travel, Anthony retired to the Italian city of Padua, where he died June 13, 1231. He was canonized less than a year after his death.
Anthony was famous for both his powerful preaching and for the miracles he performed. One of the best-known of the miracles is the apparition of the Christ Child. According to the legend, while Anthony was visiting the home of a friend, his host noticed a radiant light pouring from under the door of the room where Anthony was staying. When he peeked through the keyhole, he saw the saint in prayer, with the Christ Child cradled in his arms. For this reason, the Holy Infant is often shown cradled in the arms of Saint Anthony. Sometimes Anthony’s image includes a book, acknowledging his great learning and his status as a Doctor of the Church. Saint Anthony was only 36 when he died, so he is always portrayed as a young man in a blue, brown, or gray Franciscan habit with a knotted cincture around his waist and a traditional Franciscan tonsure. He may be shown half-length or full-length. If he is shown full-length, he is either barefoot or in sandals, signifying his vow of poverty. He is often depicted with a flowering lily, symbolizing purity and chastity. His devotion to the Holy Eucharist and Franciscan charity for the poor is sometimes shown by including loaves of bread, ears of wheat, and a monstrance, ciborium, or chalice in the retablo.
In three retablos, Saint Anthony is portrayed as a young man in a blue habit, traditionally worn by Franciscans in New Spain through 1897, with a traditional Franciscan tonsure. The first retablo (fig. 1) shows a full-length figure of Saint Anthony standing on a tiled ground against a blue-green background with a swag of white-edged gold drapery in the upper right corner. He stands next to a table covered with a red cloth on which is placed a book and a small gold box, possibly a ciborium, with three ears of grain. The saint wears a knotted Franciscan cincture around his waist and sandals on his feet. Christ the Child holds a stalk of lilies which is visible behind his right shoulder and a white six-spoked halo is above his head. He holds a piece of white cloth on which the Christ Child stands, dressed in a red robe with a white pattern. He is further identified by the inscription “S. Antonio de Padua 1901” in the lower right corner of the retablo. The second retablo (fig. 2) shows a half-length Saint Anthony against a background of brown earth and a blue sky with clouds in the upper corners. He holds the Christ Child swaddled on a white piece of cloth; the Holy Infant wears a red garment and holds a stalk of white lilies in his right hand and a cross in his left, indicating the manner of his eventual death. Another half-length representation (fig. 3) shows Saint Anthony in a blue robe with a white knotted cincture against a plain brown background. The Christ Child, whom he holds in his hands, wears a reddish robe, and he appears to have a nail mark on his left palm, possibly foreshadowing the crucifixion. The Saint has a white halo above his head, while the Christ Child is shown with las tres potencias (the three powers) emanating from his head, symbolizing the Trinity.
Figure 1. Saint Anthony of Padua, Doctor / San Antonio de Padua, Doctor Anonymous Mexico, dated 1901.
Oil on tin. 14 x 10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.55.
Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.
Figure 2. Saint Anthony of Padua, Doctor / San Antonio de Padua, Doctor Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.
Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1968.4.118.
Figure 3. Saint Anthony of Padua, Doctor / San Antonio de Padua, Doctor Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.
Oil on tin. 13¼ x 10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.4.54.
Donor: Dr. and Mrs. Andrew M. Babey.
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Franciscan Friars of the National Shrine of Saint Anthony. “Who Is St. Anthony of Padua” Accessed March 19, 2019. https://www.stanthony.org/who-st-anthony/.
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Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
St. Anthony of Padua YCDSB Society. “Traditions & Miracles of St. Anthony.” Accessed February 26, 2019. https://sainthanthonyofpaduaycdsb.weebly.com/traditions–miracles.html.
Wintz, Jack, OFM, ed. Anthony of Padua: Saint of the People. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005.
Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil and Charles Muir Lovell, eds. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.