Praying to Saints and Folk Magic: Sant' Antonio

Sant' Antonio of Padua is also known as St. Anthony the Wonder-Worker. During his life, this Franciscan friar was credited with performing many amazing miracles, including re-attaching an amputated foot, preaching to the fishes, banishing evil spirits, rendering poisoned food innocuous by making the Sign of the Cross over it, etc. In Catholic lore, he is acknowledged as the greatest miracle worker of his times. Due to being conflated with his namesake, St. Anthony the Great, there is an Italian folktale that credits him with bringing fire to humanity from the infernal regions. (St. Anthony the Great was a swineherd and is the patron saint of swineherds, but St. Anthony of Padua is also a patron saint of swineherds. In either case, the St. Anthony in the folktale is accompanied by a pig.) Thus, it is no surprise that Catholics often turn to him with their requests. His novena, or nine-day prayer, is used in Italy for many petitions.

During his lifetime, Brother Anthony was known for drawing souls lost to the heresy of Catharism back into the Catholic church by his preaching. He is patron saint of restoring faith in the blessed sacraments of the Holy Catholic Church. Since the 17th century, he has been invoked for the recovery of things that are lost, including restoring lost mail, finding employment, finding a spouse, restoring stolen articles, safe delivery of messages. Some folks call on St. Anthony to find parking spaces.

There is a legend that a psalter had disappeared from his cell. In the 13th century, books were quite valuable. Inquiries as to who had moved or mislaid the book proved fruitless. The saint prayed that the psalter would be found. The book was quickly returned by a novice, explaining that he had not bothered to ask permission to borrow it, but a fearsome apparition compelled him to return the valuable manuscript. Another version of this legend claimed the events took place long after the saint's death. The prayer book of Sant'Antonio was kept as a relic. When it vanished, the friars prayed for its return. The novice who had taken it was confronted with a vision, Sant'Antonio arrabbiato.

He is likewise invoked against starvation and barrenness. He is the patron saint of many things, including amputees, American Indians, animals (horses, mules, asses, pigs and other domestic animals), swineherds, sailors, boatmen, mariners, watermen, and fishermen, harvests, elderly people, absentminded people (seekers of lost articles), Alzheimer's patients, oppressed people, pregnant women, expectant mothers, paupers, starving people, travelers, and travel hostesses. He is also petitioned for peace in the family, protection for women in childbirth, protection for travelers, aid to the poor, against sterility, against barenness, against starvation, and against shipwreck.

His titles include Example of Humility, Generator of Charity, Consoler of the Afflicted, Guide of Pilgrims, Patron of Seekers of Lost Articles, Performer of Miracles, Restorer of Sight to the Blind, Restorer of Speech to the Mute, Guide of Pilgrims, Liberator of Prisoners, Reviver of the Dead, Disburser of Devils, and Zealous for Justice.

He is the patron saint of Padua, Italy, Favara, Italy, Ferrazzano, Italy, Giano Vetusto, Italy, Nicolosi, Italy, and Portugal.

In his home land of Portugal, St Anthony is known as a matchmaking saint. Since he can assist in finding things, it is assumed he can assist in finding a spouse.

In Lisbon, Portugal, on his feast day, June 13, convertible cars parade along Avenue Liberdade, filled with brides. These women in wedding finery are the “brides of St. Anthony,” and it is part of the saint’s feast day traditions. The city hall traditionally hosts the bridal couples for free if they are poor.

On June 13, pots of basil are displayed on almost every balcony around this city in which the saint was born. The pots are often given as gifts with little verses. These verses either invoke St. Anthony or the verses state love and affection for the recipient. A young man, for example, may present a pot of basil to the girl he hopes to wed.

On the eve of his feast day, girls try various traditional methods of divination to find out whom they will wed.

One Portugese method involved a girl praying to St. Anthony and asking him to give a specific sign as to which young man she ought to wed. In her prayers, the girl suggested a sign or an omen, such as a dog barking, which she hopes the saint will use to provide the answer.

Another method of divination suggested that an unwed girl place a small bowl of water under her bed. The bowl of water has rolled up slips of paper with the names of eligible men. The next day, the slip of paper which has opened up the most, contains the name of whom she will wed.

Another way to find the name of one's future husband is for a girl to fill her mouth with water and hold it. When she hears a male name mentioned, that name is certain to be the same as that of her future husband.

At any time of the year, a single woman can purchase a small statue of Saint Anthony, which she places (or buries) upside down for a week in order to find a good husband.

In Sicily, St. Anthony is petitioned on his feast day by women and men for aid in finding a marriage partner. Prior to June 13, a person ought to purchase a small St. Anthony medal and some red ribbon. Then the petitioner ought to write a description of all the qualities she or he wishes a spouse to have. Then she or he folds the blessed medal inside the paper and binds it with the red ribbon.

On the saint's feast day, the person then hides the package in a church where it is unlikely to be found--as this request is only intended for the good saint's attention.

For the next nine days, the petitioner will pray the novena of St. Anthony and light a small, white candle each day to him. Allegedly this saint will arrange for that petitioner to become engaged in a year.

Another custom to petition St. Anthony for aid in getting married is to sprinkle dried rice and rose petals over his image just prior to prayer.

In Italy, Sant' Antonio is also petitioned for help in finding or regaining a sweetheart.

Leland, in his Etruscan Roman Remains, provided the following Italian spell by which a woman may "win or reclaim a lover, or indeed, if anyone wants anything at all..." (p. 238)

At midnight, a woman will set, in an open window, a pot of rue with two pots of fireweed or Erba di Sant' Antonio. These pots will be adorned with red ribbons tied with three knots.

In Italy, fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is known as the Herb of Saint Anthony (Erba di Sant' Antonio). The association with the saint arose from a belief that fireweed was the herb to treat Saint Anthony's Fire. These blue wildflowers are especially attractive to bees.

She will offer a prayer to Sant' Antonio, and afterwards she will say:

My benign Sant' Antonio,
I am not worthy to pray to thee,
This grace I modestly require;
Pray light for me three flames of fire,
And of these the first in turn
On my head may storm and burn,
One I pray within my heart,
That all pain from me depart,
And the third beside my door,
That it may never leave me more.
If this grace be granted me,
Let three sounds be heard by me:
A knock at a door,
A whistle, before,
Or the bark of a dog--I ask no more.
In Italian:
Sant' Antonio, mio benigno,
Di pregarvi non son digno,
Se questa grazia mi farte,
Tre fiammi di fuoco per me facete;
Una sopra la mia testa,
Che per me arde e tempesta,
Una canto al mio cuore,
Che mi levi da questo dolore,
Una vicino alla mia porta
Che di questa grazia non se ne sorta;
Se questa grazia mi aveta fatto,
Fate mi sentir tre voci!
Porta bussare
Uomo fistiare,
E cane abbiare!
Naturally, aside from offering a traditional prayer to the saint, she must offer other Catholic prayers, such as Hail Mary, Our Father, and Glory Be! If she hears one of the requested signs, the petition will be granted. However, it is a bad sign if a hearse, black horse, or mule passes.

As the saint is often depicted holding lillies, others state that a petitioner ought to arrange lillies, rather than fireweed, rue, or basil, upon a home altar with the saint's prayer card and a candle dedicated to Sant' Antonio. The candle ought to be orange when requesting help in finding a spouse, but the color is not mandatory. The petitioner's request for her or his ideal spouse is repeated daily for nine days during the recitation of the saint's novena, during which the candle is burned.

In Italy, the Feast of Sant' Antonio on June 13 also coincides with the opening of sardine season, and all over Rimini folks tradtionally grill sardines.

One of the famous Italian legends about Sant' Antonio recounts in Rimini, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, he encountered some difficulty in getting the local population to listen his preaching. The good saint went down to the shore, where the river Ariminus runs into the sea, and began to speak to the fishes. A great multitude of fish swam to the bank on which he stood. The fish poked their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on Sant' Antonio's face. The fish were ranged in perfect order, the smaller ones in front near the bank, after them came those a little bigger, and last of all, where the water was deeper, the largest fish.

As he continued speaking, the fish began to open their mouths and bow their heads, apparently expressing their reverence. Hearing of the miracle, the people of the city hurried to witness it and thus also benefited from hearing the saint's blessed words.

Today cooked sardines are said to represent those miraculous fish and as such are an important part of the festivities.

Sant' Antonio's special day of the week is Tuesday. If it is not his feast day, offer him a colored candle on Tuesdays. Supposedly, orange for marriage, green for financial petitions, and brown for special requests.

In iconography, Sant'Antonio is depicted with the infant Jesus, bread, a book, a lilly, or under a walnut tree or nut tree.

--Myth Woodling, 2007

Prayers to Saint Antonio
St. Anthony and the Divine Child
Who was St. Anthony?
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