Schedules, prices and history of Saint Anthony Church of Lisbon

Schedules of Saint Anthony Church

    Monday to Friday: 8am to 7pm.
    Saturday and Sunday: 8am to 8pm.
    Monday to Friday: 11am and 5pm.
    Saturday and Sunday: 11am / 5pm and 7pm.

Address: Largo de Santo António da Sé. 1100-401 Lisbon.
Link to Official website

Saint Anthony Church history

The 13th June is a nice holiday, dedicated to Saint Anthony, when people take time to eat some caldo verde soup and grilled sardines, preferably in the districts around Sé, and watch the parades (marchas populares).

Nowadays, children no longer ask for money for the decoration of the Saint’s throne, and girls probably do not pray to him asking for a boyfriend either. But his huge popularity, more than eight hundred years after his birth, invites us to remind the main elements of Saint Anthony’s life, spent in Lisbon, Coimbra and Padua.

Since 1140 King Afonso Henriques, our first monarch, was attempting to conquer Lisbon from the Moors. He succeeded seven years later, in 1147, after a lengthy siege he managed to impose on the Almohads with the serendipitous help from an army of 13.000 Crusaders. This army of Christian men from Northern Europe was on its way to East, in order to eject the Muslims from the Holy Land.

Lisbon was, therefore, a newly Christianized city, when in its cathedral Saint Anthony was baptised. The name of the boy was Fernando Martins de Bulhões, son to Dona Teresa Tavera, a descendant of Fruela, King of Asturias, and to Martinho or Martins de Bulhões. Uncertainty remains about the father’s surname and it is also not certain if he was or not descendant Celtic knights. What we know for sure is that his mother, Dona Teresa, was born in Castelo de Paiva and his husband in a nearby place. They were living in their own house in the Cathedral’s district, when Saint Anthony was born in 1195 (though some believe he was born in 1190 or 1191).

Fernando attended the Cathedral’s school and lived with his parents and with his sister Maria until he was 15. When he turned 20, he was professed in the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, in Lisbon, in the Monastery of Saint Vincent Outside the Walls (Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora). It was in this monastic order that he developed his theological studies.

Later he went to Coimbra, to the Monastery of the Holy Cross (Mosteiro de Santa Cruz), where he had at his disposal the best monastic library of the country. In Coimbra, after being ordained a priest, he receives the Franciscan habit in 1220. According to his biographers, Saint Anthony read a lot during this time, which contributed to him becoming a preacher.

The Christian world lived intensely the time of the Crusades. A so-called “holy war” against Islam was taking place. On the part of Muslims, the opposite happened, and there was intense fighting against Christians. Both believed faith would lead them to victory. From East to West the armies fight, and in the middle of such whirlwind new forms of spirituality arise. In 1209 Saint Francis of Assisi leaves the comfort and luxury of his father’s house, and gathers with other companions in a small community, giving rise to a new kind of reflection on the Gospel’s experience. It is the approach to nature, the simple life and the rediscovery of the dignity of poverty advocated by the early Christians. In few years, men and women, some very young and from powerful and rich families, start to feel attracted to this life of divestment and sacrifice, with their eyes set on the example of Christ. Echoes of this new mysticism also reach Portugal.

In January 1220, five Franciscan friars minor are beheaded in Morocco, and the entire Christian world suffers a great shock. Saint Clare of Assisi herself (born in 1193 or 1194, about the same age as Saint Anthony) wants to leave for Morocco in order to convert the Saracens, but Francis of Assisi, his childhood friend and spiritual director, does not allow it.

Meanwhile in Portugal, Saint Anthony, already ordained priest, decides for a change of religious order and receives the habit of the Franciscans.

It is on this occasion that Fernando changes his baptism name to António and starts to live with other friars in Saint Anthony’s Hermitage in Olivais, at some distance from Coimbra at the time, in grounds donated to the order by Dona Urraca, wife of King Afonso II.

In mid-1220, the relics of Saint Berard and his companions, the martyrs of Morocco, arrived in the Convent of The Holy Cross (Convento de Santa Cruz) in Coimbra with great religious pomp and this event was decisive for Saint Anthony’s life direction. He leaves for Morocco, feeling that he is also called to take part in the conversion of the so-called Infidels. However, he becomes seriously ill and unable to fulfil his plans. He embarks on his return journey to Lisbon, but the ship is caught in a storm and the saint’s route altered by a higher will. He ends up landing in Sicily during a period of armed conflicts between Pope Gregory IX and the King of Sicily, Frederick II. It is good to remember that several regions of what is now a unified Italy were, at the time, independent kingdoms, pervaded by an environment of war, which created insecurity and dangers.

In May 1221, the Franciscans were assembled in General Chapter of the Order, and Saint Anthony is present. After the meeting, the friars return to their communities, one of which was in Montepaolo, near Bologna, where, along with contemplative and prayer life, the friars also dealt with the domestic tasks of the convent. It was here that the other friars noticed the remarkable modesty of the foreigner Saint Anthony, never suspecting his deep theological knowledge. After a period of reflection, serving as a novitiate, the Franciscan friars were called to the city of Forlì to be ordained and Saint Anthony was chosen to utter the spiritual conference. He begins to speak: no one until that moment had realised how much he knew about the Scriptures, and how unusual were his faith and his oratory gifts.

As far as it is known, as soon he began to speak he immediately captivated the other friars, and from that day on, his life would be that of a preacher of the word of Christ. He travelled through several regions of present-day Italy, between 1223 and 1225, and following the suggestion of Saint Francis himself, he becomes Master of Theology in Bologna, and then in Montpellier and Toulouse.

When Saint Francis died in 1226, Saint Anthony moved to Padua. There he began preaching Sunday sermons; his words full of allegories were so accessible to people, the most and least devout as well, that they begin spreading the word and more people start gathering in churches to hear him. He moves out from the church to the churchyard to better address the crowds that would not stop growing larger. From the churchyard, he moves on to open field and at a time he is listened by more than 30 thousand people. It is a rare case of popularity. The crowd follows him everywhere he goes and so is the beginning of his fame as a miracle worker. The young men of Padua even have to serve as bodyguard to the Portuguese Saint such were the large crowds that surrounded him. At times, women tried to approach him in order to cut off a piece of his friar’s habit to serve as a relic.

The bishop of Ostia, who later reigned as Pope Alexander IV and canonized Saint Anthony, asked him to write sermons for the main religious feasts, which were already many at the time. Saint Anthony fulfilled the bishop’s request. These documents are very important today, because, although preaching abundantly, Saint Anthony actually wrote few of his sermons. Only Sermones per Annum Dominicales (1227-1228) and In Festivitatibus Sanctorum Sermones (1230) are attributed to him.

When he began to feel ill, Saint Anthony asked to be taken to Padua. It was his wish to die there, but it was on the way, in a small convent of Poor Clares in Arcela, that Saint Anthony “departed in bliss to the mansions of the heavenly spirits”, on June 13, 1231.

He was later canonized in 1232, when less than a year had passed since his death. This is a single case in the history of the Catholic Church. Not even Saint Francis of Assisi met such privilege.

Saints like Saint Anthony have long stepped down from the altars to live among us, mere mortals, who have taken him as our protector and friend. His sumptuous tomb in green marble, in the church of Saint Anthony at Padua, is a tribute by people who loved him and is much more than a place of pilgrimage and prayer. Through the centuries, his fame has spread throughout all continents. Every year, on 13th June, Lisbon and Padua equally commemorate the worldly journey of a Portuguese, who preached the faith and died in Padua, like all saints being universal.

By Maria Luís V. Paiva Boléo

    See also:

  1. Monuments and museums in Lisbon
  2. Monuments and museums in Portugal

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