Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St. Anthony of Padua

His name was not Anthony, nor did he belong to Padua. He was born in Lisbon in 1195, and was baptized by the name of Fernando, but when he joined the Order of the Franciscans he assumed the name of Anthony, and he is styled "of Padua" because the end of his ministry took place in that town, where he was so beloved by the inhabitants that they would never have permitted his canonization under any other title. Indeed, they went through a period of four days' actual warfare to obtain possession of his body after his death, which had taken place at Arcella, in the suburb of Capo di Pont, not far from Padua.

His father's name was Martin Bullone, and some maintain that he was connected with the family of Godfrey de Bouillon, the leader of the First Crusade. His mother is said to have been Maria Tareja Taveira, and as she was descended from Froila I, fourth king of Asturias, it seems that the Saint was of noble origin.

After a childhood marked by "faultless behavior," he retired at the age of fifteen to a monastery, the better to keep himself unspotted by the world's temptations. Here he remained, studying the Scriptures, until the time when he joined the Franciscans. His turning to that Order was a result of the deep impression made upon him by the martyrdom of five Minorite Brothers in Morocco. He resolved to become a Franciscan himself, to go to Morocco, and win the crown of martyrdom. He succeeded in reaching the scene of his desired sufferings, but, eager as he was to give his life. in spreading the knowledge of Christ among the infidel, this was not vouchsafed him, for there prevailed in the country a drought of long standing, owing to which men, beasts, and vegetation sickened and died. Anthony fell ill and, after some months of suffering, set sail again for Portugal. Wind and weather conspired, however, to keep him away from his native land. They drove his ship to the coast of Sicily, where he landed at Taormina. Here he heard that a chapter of the Franciscan Order was to be held on the Whitsunday of 1221 and, weak and ailing though he still was, he made his way to Assisi to assist at the great gathering, where he had the joy of seeing and knowing the Seraphic Father. St Francis was by this date too feeble to make himself heard by the vast audience, but seated at the feet of Brother Elias, made suggestions and offered measures.

After this, Anthony, following St Francis' own example, retired to a hermitage on Monte Paolo. He lived in a grotto on the summit of the mountain and there fasted and prayed. It was by chance that he commenced his mission of preaching: he had gone to the monastery at Forli and was there performing some humble office in the kitchen, when, in the refectory one day, the Superior having asked various members to address the Brothers during the meal time, each excused himself. He finally urged Anthony to preach. At first Anthony demurred, but in the end, overcoming his modesty, he spoke with such eloquence, learning, and fervour, such humility and love, that the astonished friars knew themselves to have harboured a great luminary in their midst.

After this he was no longer permitted to remain in silent seclusion, but was sent to preach and teach at the University of Bologna, and later in France at Montpellier, Toulouse, Bourges, Limoges, .and in Provence. In 1226 he returned to Italy and, after some time spent in travel, preaching, and founding convents, he arrived in Padua. Here he spent the remainder of his brief life (he died in 1231 at the age of thirty-six) lecturing on theology, preaching, striving to free the people from the tyranny of the monstrous potentate, Eccellino da Romano, and performing innumerable miracles up to the hour of his death.

The miracle by which he is perhaps best known is that connected with his preaching to the fishes, even as St Francis did to the birds. It happened in this wise. While the Saint was preaching repentance and regeneration in Rimini, the heretics, of whom there were many, refused to listen to him, and when he would have made them hear, they mocked him and obstinately stopped their ears. Whereupon in the presence of all he confounded their unbelief. He went to the river which flowed near at hand and, standing on its edge, with hands outstretched over the water, said in a loud voice:

"Hear me, ye fishes, for these unbelievers refuse to listen. Hear me while I rehearse the benefits you daily receive from God; God it is Who created you; God Who gives you this stream of limpid water in which you disport yourselves at will, with no care or toil; God Who gives you your food and your thrice-blessed freedom."

He went on to remind them of their great debt of love and duty to their Maker. As his sermon proceeded, at first a few and gradually more, and then still more fishes gathered together, till the water was as full of them as the squares were usually full of men and women wherever he came to preach. Closely they crowded, great and small, their heads above water, eyes fixed upon him and mouths open. They listened to him attentively until the sermon ended, and their great concourse was not dispersed until Anthony had pronounced a blessing over them and dismissed them.

Another well-known miracle is that of Bononillo's horse. This Bononillo, a heretic, had one day held a long discussion with Anthony: he had resisted the Saint's exhortations and refused to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. At last St Anthony said to him: "If the horse which you often ride were to bow down and worship the Body of Christ under the guise of the Host, would you then be convinced and believe?"

Bononillo declared that if such a proof should be offered him he would henceforth believe both in word and in spirit, but he added that he must himself arrange the conditions of the test. Anthony agreed to this. Accordingly, for two days Bononillo kept his horse in the stall without food and on the third opened the door and let him come out. Bononillo himself stood outside on one side of the entrance with a sieve full of oats; on the other side stood Anthony bearing aloft the Sacrament in a chalice. The horse, emerging from his stable, stood for a moment considering the two—then, advancing toward the friar, the gentle-eyed creature bent his knees and reverently placed his forehead on the ground before the Host. The people who had come to witness what should happen further saw that the horse remained in the same position until Anthony, having blessed him, bade him rise and return to his master. The heretic, needless to add, was contented, convinced, and converted.

Pope Gregory IX gave Anthony the surname of "the Ark of the Covenant," and for this reason. Having ordered him to preach in Rome on an occasion when there was in that city a gathering of numberless pilgrims, there were among the Saint's auditors men of almost every known nation and race—Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Slav, English, Teuton, and more still. Yet when Anthony addressed them, each heard him as if he had spoken in his own native tongue, and every man understood him perfectly.

In the same way, a certain woman was once most eager to hear the Saint's preaching, but her husband would not permit her to leave him, he being ill, as well as an unbeliever. The woman, greatly disappointed, opened her window and regretfully gazed in the direction of the spot where the sermon was to take place, which was about two miles distant. To her surprise and delight she heard the voice of St Anthony without the least difficulty, and followed his discourse, nor lost a single word of it. Her unwilling husband was obliged to acknowledge the reality of the miracle, as he also heard the sermon and was thereby converted.

Another miracle, and one very charming for its sweet sympathy, is the following. A penitent came to confess to the Saint, but upon his arrival was so overcome by shame and contrition for his faults that he could not bring himself to give them utterance.

"Go home," said Anthony, "write down thy offences and then bring me their list."

The penitent did as he was bidden. When all, down to the last humiliating detail, had been laid bare, he returned to the Saint, who accepted and unrolled the scroll. What was then the guilty soul's wonder at seeing the page which had been black with the tale of his crimes suddenly present a white surface—his sins had been forgiven.

When Anthony was once preaching in a town where he was remaining but a short time, a certain rich man offered him hospitality in his house, and gave him a room where he might retire and devote himself to prayer and contemplation. This room had a window which opened on the household stairway, and the host, filled with curiosity concerning the doings of his saintly guest, incessantly mounted and descended the stairs in order to peer through the window and see what he might be about. Invariably he found him at prayer by the light of a dim taper. His surprise was great, therefore, when, on one of his descents, he saw the room filled with a dazzling light, and Anthony kneeling before the table on which lay his open book of orisons. Upon the book stood a radiant Child. With arms outstretched toward the Saint, He smiled as if upon a well-known friend. Anthony, tender love beaming from his countenance, taking Him in his arms, kissed Him, while the Child fondly stroked the Saint's cheek.

When the apparition had vanished and the room had again fallen into its former gloom, and Anthony likewise was again sunk in deep study of his book, the man, making known his presence, tremblingly asked whether the celestial guest had indeed been the Divine Child. Anthony assented, but charged his host never to reveal what he had seen so long as he himself should live. When, however, the Saint was dead, the man, after touching his holy relics, testified to what he had seen, weeping happy tears at the remembrance, and calling St Anthony to witness to the truth of what he related.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Saints by Grace Hall


The list of his miracles while he lived is long, and was multiplied after his death. In fact, so many wonders took place at his tomb in the first few months after his death that it came to be believed that one had only to pray to St Anthony and one's desires would be fulfilled. Who has not heard, even to this day, that St Anthony if appealed to will find and return to one anything, great or small, that one may have lost?

Anthony's death, as has been mentioned, took place at Arcella as he was hastening to Padua, where, feeling his life near an end, he wished to breathe his last. The Brothers who accompanied him, knowing that difficulties might follow, tried to keep his death a secret for the time being, until his body should have been interred.

By what agency the truth became known was never ascertained, but of a sudden the children in the streets of Padua began running distractedly about, crying out: "Il Santo! Il Santo! Il Santo a morto!"  ("The Saint is dead!") No question arose in the mind of any one as to what Saint they meant. That the Saint for them meant Anthony was further demonstrated when the Cathedral was built in his honour in Padua. It is not commonly called by his name. What need? If there is a cathedral in Padua, is it not of necessity his? In all simplicity they call it La Chiesa del Santo—the Church of the Saint, or still more simply Il Santo.