St. Anthony of Padua

anthony post cover (1)St. Anthony had a number of entries in the FAQ Collection Index, aka Rootwork 101, and it was a little unwieldy, so I’m gonna link the directory entry for him to this page and let his various little tidbits get collected here instead and we’ll see if that makes any difference for better or worse.

St. Anthony of Padua (and/or of Lisbon) has been a popular saint pretty much since before he was even dead, never mind canonized. He had a reputation for being an amazing preacher; he impressed Pope Gregory IX and inspired frenzy in crowds. Towards the end of his life as he preached in Portugal, in fact, he had to be protected from crowds with sharp implements who wanted to get a lock of his hair or a piece of fabric from his clothing to have as a relic (Farnum 142).

He was born in 1195 in Portugal and entered an Augustinian monastery at 15, where he studied for the priesthood. He became a Franciscan later, inspired by a passel of martyred Franciscans who were shipped back home quite worse for the wear after seriously annoying some Muslims in Morocco, and he is nearly always portrayed in the Franciscan habit.

Iconography

You can usually tell St. Anthony by his iconography pretty easily – you don’t see that many male figures holding the baby Jesus in Christian art. If you see one, chances are excellent that it’s either St. Joseph or St. Anthony. According to the legend mentioned in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, he’s portrayed with the infant Jesus because baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary appeared to him in a vision. But in older portrayals especially, you might see him with a book and/or a lily instead.

Because Anthony was a Franciscan, he’ll have brown robes, but St. Joseph might also, so the quickest check, esp. for small, non-full-color representations, is usually the haircut. St. Joseph will have a normal head of hair (and usually facial hair) while St. Anthony has the tonsure and is clean-shaven.

If you can’t see even the hair in a tiny detail, check posture. Joseph is usually going to appear very dignified. Even when he’s inclining his head towards the Christ child or looking at him, the tableau’s usually fairly dignified/solemn. But there’s an odd sort of light, dynamic quality often hinted at in the posture of St. Anthony, where he appears to be curving his body around or towards Jesus’ and looking directly at his face and the artist caught him mid-movement.

anthony medal kiss

from my collection

Or maybe it’s just me/my imagination, or maybe it really depends on how old you are and where you encounter religious art, because artistic trends definitely come into and go out of style. But here on this holy medal is an example of the sort of emotional almost-exuberance I mean, that’s often hinted at in Anthony portrayals and largely absent in Joseph ones. Anthony is laying a big old smacker right on the Christ child. I mean, it’s playful. Joseph doesn’t do that lol

Age can be another clue. Tradition has it that St. Joseph died at an advanced age, though the Bible says absolutely nothing about this, and St. Anthony died at age 36, so a definitely older figure is definitely not St. Anthony.

nunBadgeAnnunciationPaez

Paintings, Latin America and United States Hispanic collection. Photograph by Richard Stracke, shared under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.

But you can play a quick game of Find That Saint here if you want, in this nun’s badge painted by Jose de Paez in about 1760 in Mexico, owned by the Hispanic Society Museum and Library. You should be able to pick St. Anthony out pretty quickly with what you know about his iconography.

Then for fun, you can have a look at one more photo in the footnotes [1] and pat yourself on the back for now having a better-developed grasp of Anthony’s iconography than do many eBay sellers who regularly deal in religious goods… which is kind of a head-scratcher, but what can you do?

Petitioning St. Anthony

Supposedly, he earned his reputation for finding lost things because he once lost his Bible (or psalter, or it was stolen, depending on which source you read), and the devil himself made the thief give it back (because Anthony lamented about it so much that the devil couldn’t stand it anymore, or because Anthony prayed, depending on which version you read).

In any case, he’s been petitioned for finding lost things for a very long time, and it’s a totally mainstream practice, not just some kind of niche folk religion thing. He’s also petitioned to return lost people, including lovers, to find someone a spouse or a soul mate, and to reconcile a couple who’s broken up. He’s been tapped as the patron of orphans, sick children, children in general, glaziers, the poor, travelers, prisoners, and pregnant women.  Legend has it he’s protected petitioners against shipwreck, cured cases of epilepsy and Live Things in You (Hyatt v. 4 #6658), and reattached a severed foot.

Matter of fact, I think if you took a survey of devotees of St. Anthony, you’d likely find he gets petitioned for just about everything at least sometimes. So he’s a busy fellow, but he has a great reputation for working wonders and is a kind, sympathetic saint. (He’s not going to smite you if you give him a birthday cake candle instead of a full-size one because that’s all you can get, in other words. He’s not a “hot” saint who has to be handled with kid gloves.)

Traditional Prayers and Rituals

St. Anthony’s feast day is June 13, which is always good to know if you’re going to develop a relationship with a saint — and you should develop a relationship with any saint or spirit you intend to work with. Don’t let your very first interaction with them be you imperiously demanding they give you X in three days or whatever. Saints are servants of God and friends of God who reside in heaven with access to God, access that you want them to use to help you. So mind your manners, do your research, pay your debts, and keep your promises. [2]

If you don’t feel like you want to fool with all that, that’s fine – just don’t work with saints. You certainly don’t have to! Most rootworkers don’t. [3]

But if you’re gonna, do it right. Novenas are a time-honored traditional way to work with saints. Novenas to St. Anthony are often begun on Tuesdays, which is widely considered to be his day. While the word novena is from the Latin word for the number 9, you’ll find that in practice, the usage is a little looser. Someone talking about a novena might be referring to a type of candle you can get, aka a vigil candle, to use with your prayers, or they might be talking about the saint’s accepted novena prayer (or a portion of it), or they might be referring to the entire multi-day working, including but not limited to the recitation of prayers over a number of days.

That number of days might be 9, but it might also be 13. You might do a novena once a day for 9 days in a row, or 9 Tuesdays in a row, or 3 times a day for 9 days, or even every hour for 9 hours in a row if you have something really intense going on.

The so-called Miraculous Responsory of St. Anthony, sometimes called Si quaeris miracula after its opening line in the original Latin, is a famous prayer that comes from the Franciscan Office of St. Anthony of Padua, from the Matins hour. [4] About half the websites I see say it was written by St. Bonaventure. This is not correct. It was written by Julian of Speyer (see Bihl, Dipoppo,  Weis, etc). I have no idea where this Bonaventure thing came in but the mistake’s been widely propagated as people just copy/paste stuff other people have written and nobody cites, never mind actually checks, any freakin’ sources. (Can you tell that’s a pet peeve of mine?) [5]

Anyway, you can easily find the whole responsory online and it’s way old, so it’s in public domain (though that doesn’t mean every English translation of it is necessarily, so keep a look out before you go reproducing it). I’ll just quote the “chorus” here from Dipoppoto give you the flavor:

The sea obeys, and fetters break,
And lifeless limbs thou dost restore
Whilst treasure lost are found again,
When young and old thine aid implore.

I wasn’t able to determine whose translation this is, but 90% of the sites I checked used this one (with no attribution), so I’m gambling it’s public domain.

St. Anthony’s Chaplet is a lovely little devotion I’m very fond of. The typical “Marian rosary” has 5 decades of 10 beads each separated by “pater beads” (so called ’cause you say the Our Father on those beads). St. Anthony’s chaplet has 13 decades of three beads each, on which you say an Our Father, a Hail Mary, then a Glory Be with different meditations in each decade.

I’m a total chaplet junkie. I have spent embarrassing amounts of money tracking down and collecting examples of various chaplets over the years, and while I can no longer indulge in that collecting habit, I love to even look at pictures of them, so any of y’all who happen to have one, please share. The only one I have right now is a rather plain one I made for myself, but I have my eye on some nice weighty antique reproduction medals that I want to get as soon as i can afford to so I can make some more nice ones. Well, one of these days!

St. Anthony’s Bread refers to the offering of thanks you give St. Anthony for interceding for you with his prayers so that God grants your petition. Sometimes it’s literally bread to be given to the poor or shared among the congregation, or a donation to buy bread, but sometimes it’s figurative and can be any kind of offering to a charity or church or other institution that St. Anthony would approve of. CatholicCulture.org has a clear, succinct little writeup on this tradition with a lovely little blessing for the bread, as well.

The details aren’t as important as the simple fact of fulfilling the vow you make to St. Anthony when petitioning him. When your request is granted, don’t blow off your obligation. Keep up your end of the bargain in “paying the saint,” and pay attention to what sorts of vows and offerings are usually made with the saint you’re working with. They don’t all like the same things and they don’t all have the same personality. While St. Anthony isn’t likely to start hitting you with punitive miracles if you aren’t out there at dawn handing out alms the day after your request is granted, it still doesn’t pay to dawdle. And some saints *will* get testy  if you aren’t moving with a sense of urgency, so don’t take this stuff lightly. It’s a relationship, a two way street. Saints aren’t vending machines.

St. Anthony’s Fire. This is a different Anthony, Anthony of Egypt, and it refers to a horrible condition caused by ergot poisoning. I’ve seen some folks online link St. Anthony’s Fire to Anthony of Padua, but unless I’ve missed the explanations every time for how this is different than what everybody else means when they refer to St. Anthony’s Fire, then this association seems to be a case of people getting two different Anthonies mixed up.

One of Hyatt’s most colorful informants and probably my personal favorite, Nahnee the “Boss of Algiers,” reports that if something has been lost or stolen and you want it back, you can ask St. Anthony for help with a simple rite. Sweeten a glass of water with three spoons of brown syrup. On your altar or workspace, place it in front of St. Anthony’s image next to three pennies. Light a brown candle for nine days and tell St. Anthony you want your missing thing to be restored to you. (Hyatt II.1374).

I was gonna weave in some more resources ’cause there are so many out there that are great, but it’s already taken me most of the week to write this because I haven’t been feeling all that great. So I’m gonna get it out there and maybe I’ll just edit it down the road. Y’all chime in if you have your own St. Anthony stories to share or if you have resources you think I should add here!

Sources

Bihl, Michael. Julian of Speyer.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Complete Edition, vol 1. Eds. Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater. Christian Classics, Westminster, Maryland, 1990.

Dipoppo, Gregory. “The Miraculous Responsory of St. Anthony of Padua.” New Liturgical Movement, 13 June 2017.

Farnum, Mabel. St. Anthony of Padua: His Life and Miracles. New York: Didier, 1948.

Miller, Jennifer. “St. Anthony’s Bread,”  12 June 2015. CatholicCulture.org, Trinity Communications, 2020.

Perry, Norman. Saint Anthony of Padua: The Story of His Life and Popular Devotions. St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1993.

Shrine Staff. “How to Pray the Chaplet of St. Anthony of Padua.” St. Anthony Shrine, 12 August 2014.

Society of Bollandists. Acta Sanctorum 06 Iunii Tomus 02 1698, v. 22. Paris and Rome, 1867. Documenta Catholica Omnia, 2006.

Steck, Francis Borgia. “Glories of the Franciscan Order.” Franciscan Herald, 1919.

Stracke, Richard. “St. Anthony of Padua: The Iconography.” Christian Iconography, 2014.

Weis, J.E. “Julian von Speier.” Die Chorale Julians von Speier zu den Reimoffizien des Franciskus- und Antoniusfestes. Munich, 1901.

St. Anthony Resources

St. Anthony: Getting a Job (Hyatt material, Madame Lindsey, Algiers) – using a three-ingredient powder in your shoe, setting a light to St. Anthony, and keeping your end of the bargain.

St. Anthony for Finding Soul Mate – outlines a few different rituals; modern newspaper, interesting case of folk religion in motion. See also St. Anthony Finder of Love on Facebook which is associated with these folks.

St. Anthony for Reconciliation by Cat at Cat’s Rants – a simple ritual/spell with some good info in the comments, too.

St. Anthony of Padua Fraternity info at St. Mark’s in Florida – a lay order (meaning for regular people, not monks and nuns and clergy); has its own Facebook page.

13 Tuesdays Novena to St. Anthony at shrineofstanthony.org

Pretty Decent Set of Prayers in PDF Pamphlet Form

Valentine Day Ritual from Mexico at A Rolling Crone – with numerous very awesome photos and a description of the ritual

Footnotes

[1] Anthony is quite often portrayed holding the Christ child. Francis, on the other hand, is usually portrayed with stigmata, no Christ child, and possibly some woodland creatures.

st francis lol

[2] To read more about this, including some general theory and frequently asked questions about working with saints, check the FAQ Index by Topic / Rootwork 101 list. There’s a whole section called Spirits and Saints: Theory and Practice.

[3] At least that was true 20 years ago, and while there are more workers involved in ATRs that work with saints or their images now, that’s quite often not the same thing at all. The question gets complicated, anyway, but it’s still true that most rootworkers are not Catholic.

[4] Quoting this 2011 blog post I wrote on something else:

[Books of Hours] are so named because they are built around the hours of the day – not the 24 hour setup we know, but the monastic and ecclesiastical hours that the day of a monk or nun or priest was divided into. These “hours” (sometimes called “offices” today) are Matins (basically the first chunk of prayers, at rising or dawn… ), Lauds or Prime (about 6 am, usually), Terce (about 9 am…), Sext (noon), Nones (about 3 pm), Vespers (evening, about 6 pm or at sunset, depending), and Compline (night, about 9 pm or before retiring). Some monasteries had a midnight office (if it has a name, it is escaping me right now), and there were variations depending on where you were and where in the liturgical calendar you were in terms of season/time of year. The prayers would vary as well depending on the larger church calendar, the day of the week, etc.

When laypeople began performing these monastic prayers themselves around the 13th century, Books of Hours were introduced as an abbreviated form of the prayer collection called a breviary used in monasteries. So this is less a system by which one tells time hour  by hour, exactly… rather, it’s a way of ordering your day around prayer times according to the liturgical hours of the day.

[5] I hate it when people make claims on websites proclaiming whatever and giving info they obviously got from somewhere but they never attribute it, just act as if they are the the font of all wisdom and truth on the matter ’cause it appeared fully formed in their  head. I hate it even more when those people are professional writers, teachers, and/or religious. But they can be  just as guilty of it as any layperson or rootworker or blogger or whatever. And this is how bullshit gets circulated and people get fed garbage and don’t know any better. So I encourage you, yes, you, to make a stand. Be a responsible participant in “conversations” like this. Go find the information somewhere reliable before you repeat it as gospel truth, or at least use qualifiers and indicate where you’re standing in this conversation, where your info is coming from. Make the world a better place. Give credit where credit is due.

You don’t sound like an expert by not citing sources – you sound like somebody who probably doesn’t actually know the full story, ’cause you’re making claims that not every author or source agrees with, oftentimes. Acknowledging how your info/opinion/belief was formed is good research practice and  good karma, plus you are totally safe from charges of plagiarism forever if you cite your sources properly.  (You’d be amazed how many bloggers don’t even understand what “copyright” means, what intellectual property is and how it works, and what “fair use” actually is. Do yourself a favor and look it up if you write as part of your profession or even hobby!)

Hold your favorite bloggers and authors to a higher standard. If you’re interested in folk tradition/religion, you should already know how important this is – it matters where you learned what you learned. Things might be done one way on the East Coast and another on the Gulf Coast, and the reasons for the seemingly minor variations might end up being massively important. You ignore all of that when you just say “so and so should never be done on Thursday” if there’s a whole other school of thought or regional practice. Who wrote the book or site you read that on, some random internet bobo? a journalist or historian? a rootworker? somebody whose “articles” consist only of stuff copy/pasted from other websites? Did it come from a 20-something person raised in the city? A nice grandmother you met in the country general store?  Sources matter. Region matters. Research matters. Authorship matters.  Respect it, expect respect for it, and take pride in your own by holding yourself to a decent standard. You can do it! (Soapbox over)

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