St. Anthony is a popular saint of the Catholic Church. Some people, churches, and institutions use his name considering him as their patron saint. People seek his mediation for many needs, especially to find the lost items. However, he is more than such an intercessor. He performed miracles, by the grace of God, while he was alive and continues after his death. The principal characteristics of this saint were his love of poverty, message of charity, zeal for Bible study, and preaching the Word of God.
Biography of St. Anthony
Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal on August 15, 1195 in a wealthy family and died on June 13, 1231 in Padua, Italy. His parents were Vicente Martins and Teresa Pais Taveira. Anthony’s former name was Fernando Martins. His parents educated him at the local Cathedral school. When he was 15, he joined Augustinian religious community in Lisbon. After becoming a priest, while serving in Coimbra, Fernando met Franciscan friars settled outside Coimbra. Their simple and evangelical lifestyle attracted Fernando. During that period, the Moors beheaded five Franciscans in Morocco while they preached that area. The Franciscans brought their bodies for the funeral in the Portuguese city where he lived. Their martyrdom attracted Fernando, and he joined the Franciscans with permission from his religious superiors. He changed his name to Anthony, the patron saint of the chapel. Anthony traveled to Morocco for preaching to the Moors willing to face martyrdom. However, he became ill there and had to return to regain his health. This shows his love for poverty and missionary zeal with the willingness to die for Christ who died for humanity.
Anthony was famous for his oratory style and deep knowledge in the Bible. One event made him popular. Once he was attending an ordination in 1222 in Forli. The Dominican and the Franciscan friars were present. But the organizers forgot to assign anyone to do the homily ahead of time. Realizing the mistake, the superior asked Fr. Anthony to preach extempore. Though reluctant, Anthony did the homily out of obedience. However, his homily was so impressive to all present, they believed the Holy Spirit guided him. Anthony had gained deep knowledge in the Bible, and he used to preach in many places.
An incident in Anthony’s life was the reason for asking his intercession for finding lost or stolen items. Anthony had a book of Psalms that he treasured because it had his scribbling of notes and comments for teaching. During those days, books were valuable because the copies were handwritten and not printed. A novice who dropped out had taken Anthony’s book with him. Anthony prayed for finding the book without knowing how he lost it. Later, the ex-novice returned the book to Anthony.
Anthony was famous for preaching to heretics in Rimini. Once, while preaching to them, they ignored him and even mocked him. So, Anthony went to the seashore and preached to the fish. Enormous number of fish came up to the water level and appeared as listening to his preaching. Those who saw the miracle went to the city and called their friends to see the miracle. At the end of the sermon, Anthony blessed the fish, and they swam away. This miracle prompted the heretics to find God’s power in Anthony and listened to him. Thus, Anthony freed the city of Rimini from heresy. Because Anthony was a successful preacher to the heretics, he got the nickname, “The Hammer of Heretics.”
Artists portray St. Anthony as holding a white lily and Baby Jesus on an open Bible. White lily symbolizes his purity, and the Bible stands for his love for the Word of God. The appearance of Infant Jesus with St. Anthony is strange because Anthony was born centuries after the incarnation of Jesus. Apart from the picture of the Holy Family, St. Anthony is the only saint depicted as holding Infant Jesus. The reason is a vision Anthony had of Infant Jesus while he was praying in private at a friend’s house. The host of the house found Anthony conversing with Infant Jesus during his prayer. Anthony requested the host to keep it secret until his death.
Among the many stories of miracles associated with St. Anthony, a famous one is “The Miser’s Heart.” Once the funeral of a rich man was taking place in the city of Tuscany. Seeing the solemn funeral, Anthony said that the dead man did not deserve such an honor because he loved money and exploited the poor. Quoting Jesus words, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), Anthony commented: “His heart is in his money-box.” Anthony’s words upset the family and friends of the deceased. They wanted to prove otherwise. They had a surgeon cut open the dead body. To their surprise, the heart was missing. Then the family found his heart in his treasure box.
While returning to Padua after a retreat at Camposampiero, Anthony died on June 13, 1231 at 35. Respecting his request, the monks buried Anthony in a small church of Santa Maria Mater Domini. The monks later built a large Basilica above it in 1301. Legends hold that when Anthony died, the children cried in the streets and church bells rang by themselves. When his body was exhumed 30 years after his death, his tongue was found uncorrupt and moist. Church believes it was God’s gift for his preaching. His tongue, jaw, and vocal cords are still displayed in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua.
Pope Gregory IX canonized St. Anthony on May 30, 1232, at Spoleto, Italy. Considering the spiritual richness of his preaching, Pope Pius XII declared St. Anthony as the Doctor of the Church on January 16, 1946. Believers in Portugal, Spain, and Brazil call Saint Anthony as a “marriage saint,” because there are legends of him reconciling couples.
People do charity in honor of St. Anthony called, “Saint Anthony’s Bread.” There is a story behind this. A mother, who lived near the Basilica of St. Antony, left her 20-month boy Tommy in her kitchen. There was an enormous pot with water boiling on the fire in the kitchen. While the boy was playing, he took a stool and peeped into the pot. He fell into the boiled water with head down as he was trying to touch his image reflected on the water. When the mother returned soon, she pulled the boy out and found him dead. Hearing the cry of the mother, the neighbors and friars from the Basilica came there. Seeing the friars, she prayed to St. Anthony to revive the child’s life. She pledged to donate bread equivalent to the weight of her child to the poor. While praying, the child arose as if from a sleep. This miracle was the origin of the practice of the faithful donating bread to the poor on the feast day of St. Anthony. It is their offering of gratitude for the favors received through the saint’s intercession. Since bread is not as important as in the ancient times, the friars encourage to give alms to the poor instead.