Portuguese trivia (VIII)

st antónioI know what you’re thinking: What does a religious fresco have to do with this blog?

Well, a few things.

The fresco above (in the Capuchos monastery in Sintra, of which I’ll speak about in another post) depicts Saint Anthony holding baby Jesus, a very common theme in Catholic art. You might remember I mentioned him on my previous post and now I’m dedicating a post to him – for a good reason. Saint Anthony is one of the most beloved saints in Portugal and I believe that understanding the reasons behind that help in understanding a thing or two about Portuguese culture.

First of all, he is believed to have been born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in Lisbon, on August 15th 1195, although there are no data from the time to determine that for sure. Half of the Catholic world knows him as St Anthony of Padua (because the died there), but over here people call him St Anthony of Lisbon or, simply, St Anthony.

He is celebrated in Portugal on June 13th (remember the most wonderful time of the year?) on what is one of the religious festivities with more mundane aspects to it. Today, celebrating St Anthony’s is more like a huge party outdoors than a religious celebration. He is a beloved character in Portuguese lore, regardless of religious cult.

In his lifetime, the young Franciscan became well known for his culture and his preaching abilities. There are many legends around him and the miracles he performed. In Portugal and Brazil he is the saint people call upon to help in finding something or someone who is lost but, probably more than anything, he is seen as a saint who helps single girls get married. This tradition is so strong that still today, in Lisbon, every year there are the “Saint Anthony’s marriages” in which young couples with monetary needs apply to, simply put, have their wedding paid for by the Lisbon City Hall. This first took place from 1957 to 1974, when getting married “by the book” was more important than it is today, and the concept was developed by a newspaper of the time. In 1997 the Lisbon City Hall brought the idea back to life and adapted it to modern times.


  1. Thanks for the information about Santo António. You’re probably aware that one of the largest cities in Texas was named for him, San Antonio, which has three times the population of Lisboa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.