In this article we bring you the Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon, a demonstration of popular faith with one peculiarity. It is said that the Lisbon beloved saint leaves alone and returns accompanied. Find out why!
The number of participants and curious people that in the afternoon of June 13 go to the square of the Church of Saint Anthony next to the Lisbon Cathedral to watch the event is increasing.
The tradition is not dead but we must highlight the magnificent work by the dedicated team of the Museum of Lisbon – Saint Anthony behind the promotion of this unique personality and of the beliefs and practices associated to him.
During the month of June, the Lisbon Festivities are on a high with a varied programme for all tastes, but we mustn’t forget that the Saint Anthony is the reason why Lisbon celebrates this month.
The high point of the most traditional festivities is on the 12th with the Wedding of Saint Anthony, the parade of popular marches in the Avenida da Liberdade and popular festivities that last until dawn. Hence it being surprising that in the afternoon of the 13th the Santo António da Sé Square is packed with people ready to watch or participate in a curious procession dedicated to the most popular saint born in Lisbon.
On that day, the streets of Alfama become even narrower and more sinuous. Observing the typical streets decorated for the festivities, filled with people, images of saints, flowers, balconies covered by bedspreads and the rosewood scent becomes an intense and emotional experience even for a non-believer.
For this reason take advantage of the holiday in Lisbon and dare to venture into the streets of Alfama.
We first suggest getting to know a bit more about this Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon.
The Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon
The procession leaves the Church of Saint Anthony and follows a long path during which other saints will join, until it returns to the starting point. It starts with one float and ends with six. That’s why it is said that Saint Anthony leaves alone and returns accompanied.
Firstly, the relique offered by the Padua Sanctuary in 1968 and that is kept in the Lisbon Cathedral is added to the image of the franciscan saint.
After the Lisbon Cathedral, the procession continues through the Alfama neighbourhood, quickly reaches the Church of São João da Praça and Saint John the Baptist is the first saint to join.
The streets become even narrower and straight ahead is the turn of Saint Michael the Archangel to join the procession. This is followed by more narrow streets packed with people walking rhythmically, chanting.
After going up the famous Rua dos Remédios the procession heads to the proximity of the Church of Santo Estêvão. Saint Stephen is awaiting it and then leads it until it finds a new group coming from the Church of São Vicente de Fora. The image of Saint Vincent of Saragossa goes through Rua das Escolas Gerais and, in turn, takes the lead.
After the Portas do Sol Square, it’s the turn of Saint James the Greater to join the procession. From there downwards, the procession passes through Limoeiro Square towards Sé Square. There it will end with the blessing to the faithful and the chanting of Te Deum Laudamus.
Saint John, Saint Michael and Saint Stephen return to their homes by heading towards Alfama. Saint James the Greater and Saint Vincent return to their places by turning back.
But it wasn’t always this way!
Origins of the Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon
The Door Knocker
It is unknown when the Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon started. However, there used to be a procession that left the Church of Saint Anthony and that headed to the small church that was situated in the current location of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Penha de França, passing through the sinuous streets of Mouraria.
This procession took place between 1599 and 1856 on August 5 and originated as an act of gratefulness from the president of the City Council of Lisbon to Our Lady of Penha when the city was spared from a plague that affected the city’s surroundings. It had the particularities of taking place at night, of the aldermen walking shoeless and of the young participants knocking on every house door they passed by, causing a stir. This procession was thus named Procession of the Door Knocker.
From the Convent of São Francisco to 1834
On June 13 another procession used to be carried out, more popular among the lower strata of society than the nobility. In this procession there were 13 floats including the image of Saint Anthony and, at the end, two black saints, Saint Benedict and Saint Anthony of Noto. It started in the old Convent of São Francisco (13th century), current location of the Faculty of Fine Art of the Lisbon University in Chiado.
The 18th century was devastating for this religious complex. A series of fires and the earthquake of 1755 wrecked the convent.
In 1834, during its slow reconstruction, the extinction of the religious orders dictated the end of its religious occupation, as well as the end of the procession.
A report in The Journal of William Beckford in Portugal and Spain bears witness to the passage of the procession through Rua Augusta in 1787, the author’s first year in Portugal.
The simplicity of the procession didn’t impress the British aristocrat, but his report provides us with important elements that perhaps wouldn’t have made it to today in any other way. A testimony worth reading.
Interruptions and Curiosities
The tradition of the Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon was resumed in 1895, but this time it started in the Convent of São Vicente de Fora, where young Saint Anthony studied.
It was only in the 1950s that June 13 became a city holiday in Lisbon and that the procession started being carried out starting from the Church of Saint Anthony, but with a shorter duration. This church, located where it is believed the saint was born (around 1191), is a post-earthquake reconstruction. The former church was completely destroyed, having only been saved the image of Saint Anthony, a big polychrome stone sculpture that weighs around 300kg.
Given the obvious difficulty and risk of removing it from the main altar of the church, where it is today, and in order for it to be preserved, an identical image was executed. This is the image that today is carried in the procession by a vehicle from the firefighters.
The image Saint Anthony also takes part in other processions, such as the Procession of Our Lady of Health that takes place on the first Sunday of May.
After another interruption, the Procession of Saint Anthony of Lisbon was resumed in 1981, having gained more relevance since then.
It’s curious that the majority of the floats that take part in this procession are exclusively carried by women.
It is believed that in the end of the procession a few believers are blessed with the miracle of the sun: a phenomenon that many describe as the immensity of colours with symbolic messages that are observed when staring at the sun.
We don’t advise you to stare at the sun, but dropping by Alfama on the day of Saint Anthony is definitely an experience worth having.
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