Lisbon’s biggest party celebrates the city’s patron saint with a barrage of music and dancing, not to mention grilled sardines, wine, and potted basil plants.
My St. Anthony experience.
Before visiting Lisbon, I had a distorted view of St. Anthony.
For many years, I lived in Rhode Island, the state with the most people having Italian heritage per capita in the U.S. That also makes Rhody the most Catholic state.
Since Anthony is known to help people find lost things, his name would be invoked any time something was misplaced.
“Where’s my car keys?”
“Pray to St. Anthony!” was the inevitable reply.
Rhode Island also has another St. Anthony custom I’ve never seen practiced anywhere else. When you’re selling a house, the tradition is to bury a statue of St. Anthony in the yard, upside down. Supposedly, this helps assure a quick sale.
Because St. Anthony superstitions were so prevalent in Little Rhody, I assumed St. Anthony was an Italian saint, through and through. That is, until we visited Lisbon.
St. Anthony of Lisbon
St. Anthony was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in Lisbon, Portugal. Young Fernando became a Franciscan friar and preached in Portugal, later gaining notoriety in Italy. Anthony died at age 35 in Padua, Italy and is buried there. That’s why he’s often known as St. Anthony of Padua.
But, in Lisbon, he is known as António de Lisboa. And, the city is very proud of their native son. António is the patron saint of Lisbon.
A baroque church, Igreja de Santo António de Lisboa, stands on the spot where Anthony was supposedly born. Just outside the church, is a statue of Lisbon’s patron saint which was dedicated by Pope John Paul II in 1982.
Feast of St. Anthony
St. Anthony’s feast day is June 13th (though in Boston and Brusciano, Italy they celebrate Anthony in late August).
Starting on the evening of June 12th in Lisbon, vendors all over the city display potted basil plants for sale. The pots come with a paper carnation. Men in Lisbon buy these potted basil plants for the people they love and attach a little note to the carnation.
St. Anthony, in addition to finding your misplaced reading glasses, is also the saint of marriage and reconciling lovers. Thus, the love notes with the basil plants.
Later, on the evening of June 12th, is when the party really gets going in Lisbon. Vendors set up portable grills all over the city and start cooking sardines. Everyone gets in long lines to buy sardines and wine (whose prices have been jacked up for the occasion). There’s lots of dancing and, traditionally, bonfires are also lit.
The best neighborhood to enjoy the Feast of St. Anthony is Alfama. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon with characteristic narrow, windy streets. It’s also where St. Anthony was born over 800 years ago.
Plus, Alfama is home to my favorite bakery in Lisbon, Pastelaria Santo Antonio. Named after Lisbon’s favorite son, there’s a mosaic of the saint upstairs. Plus, they have the best Pastel de Nata in the city.
The Day After
After a night of drinking and dancing, June 13th is the actual St. Anthony day in Portugal. It’s a holiday. And good thing, you’re going to need to rest.