One of my favourite cities to visit in the U.S. is Boston. Besides its fascinating history and rich cultural tapestry, the city boasts a large Italian neighbourhood known as the North End. Like any good Italian community, it’s known for its many restaurants, churches and festivals.
Today reminds me of the colourful North End celebrations of St. Anthony of Padua’s feast. Although the community celebrates the feast in August, closer to the annual commemoration of his birth, the grand celebration offers us an experience of the many customs that surround St. Anthony.
Today people will frequently ask for St. Anthony’s help to find lost items, but his renown first arose due to his brilliant preaching and teaching. His homilies inspired Pope Gregory IX and his court, with some acclaiming St. Anthony as a “jewel case of the Bible.” His ministry to the people of Padua—and throughout Europe—inspired many. In 1232, less than a year after his death, Pope Gregory IX canonized him and his fame spread throughout his native Portugal.
Devotion to St. Anthony instantly grew and led to many customs that we still see today. Aside from the grand Portuguese and Italian festivals in his honour, people will carry blessed lilies, symbolic of his purity. Additionally, some will share what is known as “St. Anthony’s Bread” with those in need, to commemorate the story of a mother who gave away bread in thanksgiving for the healing of her child who nearly drowned near the Basilica of St. Anthony in 1263. Finally, single people will often visit churches or shrines dedicated to St. Anthony on his feast day and pray for his intercession in finding a spouse. In Lisbon, today is often a day for many wedding celebrations.
While these are a few of the ways people honour St. Anthony, there are certainly many others. Perhaps you and your family have a few of your own. If so, we’d be interested to hear about your customs. Share with us your traditions for this day.
For those living in or near Toronto, you may take part in a local celebration of the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua at St. Bonaventure’s in Don Mills. The parish has the great honour of venerating St. Anthony’s relics, in commemoration of the 750th anniversary of St. Bonaventure’s discovery of St. Anthony’s remains.
-Don Beyers, Marketing Manager