In the richness of sacred art, St. Anthony of Padua is a perennial favorite subject. Many Catholic churches and schools have some image of this popular saint.He is also a saint that has had a number of legends associated around him. As we celebrate the life of St. Anthony today, here are three legends that you will often see depicted in sacred art:
1. St. Anthony holding the Child Jesus
Second to the Blessed Mother, St. Anthony is the saint most frequently depicted shown holding the Child Jesus. Franciscan historians have noted that while St. Anthony has been frequently portrayed in art since his death in 1231, images of him with the Christ Child did not become popular until the 17th century.
One of many versions of a legend concerning St. Anthony holding the Christ Child involves a Count Tiso who had a castle about 11 miles from Padua, Italy. On the grounds of the castle the count had provided a chapel and a hermitage for the friars. Near the end of his life, Anthony often went there and spent time praying in one of the hermit cells.
One night, his cell suddenly filled up with light. Jesus appeared to Anthony in the form of a tiny child. Passing by the hermitage, the count saw the light shining from the room and St. Anthony holding and communicating with the infant. The count fell to his knees upon seeing this wondrous sight. And when the vision ended, Anthony saw the count kneeling at the open door. Anthony begged Count Tiso not to reveal what he had seen until after his death
2. St. Anthony and Lilies
St. Anthony is also often depicted with a lily. The lily is a sign of purity and is frequently used in sacred art. The association of lilies with St. Anthony is a particularly strong one. It remains a tradition in some parts of the world to bless and distribute lilies on his feast day.
3. St. Anthony holding a book
Along with the Child Jesus and a lily, St. Anthony is frequently shown holding a book. According to legend, there was a novice in Anthony’s community who had already grown tired of living religious life and who had decided to depart the community. In his leaving, this novice also took Anthony’s psalter. Upon realizing his psalter was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned to him. And after his prayer the novice was moved to return the psalter to Anthony and to return to the Order. This legend grew and was embellished over time to associate St. Anthony with the recovery of any and all lost items.
Give all of yourself and God will give you all of Himself.
~ St. Anthony of Padua
Let’s give thanks for the lessons we can learn from this quiet and humble preacher who allowed the Spirit to work through him to bring the Gospel message to many.