Religion in Poggioreale: Saint Anthony of Padua


June 13

In Italian Saint Anthony of Padua is known as San Antonio di Padua, and in Sicilian he is known as S. Antuninu.

Pitre wrote: “men and women together form the very solemn procession of candles in Poggioreale the evening of the festival of San Antonio for which the people show a great devotion and faith. This Saint’s name is invoked for all types of need and to whom miracles are attributed… San Antonio of Padua takes the place of the Siculan Ceres in the protection of grains.”

At dawn on the day of June 13 the people are awakened by the explosion from an endless succession of firecrackers along the procession route. In the afternoon of the vigil and of the festival there are horse races (giannetti), a characteristic and tempestuous relic of tire Arab invasion. It is the great festival of the town, and every family participates in the preparations. From every street where the races are run, there is a swarming mass of people dressed in their best clothes who line the streets of the race, while the balconies of the main street are crowded and along the sidewalks masses of people stand. This is a very happy time. The crowd is so dense that the horses, launched at a full gallop (only recently have there been jockeys) and the crowd opens before them as they advance.

The evening of the 13th, lights illuminate the town and the scene is complete when the procession comes into view; the procession begins an hour after nightfall and lasts for about three hours. San Antonio’s statue is carried on the shoulders of 24 individuals. The people do not follow in orderly lines; there are entire families that walk abreast together; hundreds of candles (torce) decorated and protected by paper lamps in various shapes, sizes and colors, all in all forming an impressive candle-light procession. There are numerous visitors from nearby towns; so many come, even bare foot, that the street is crowded from one wall to the other, forming a great, compact, lighted, undulating mass of people.

Sometimes the festival date has coincided with the festival of the Holy Crucifix and then there is also the processional of the “Present” (lu Prisenti), which is the symbolic colorful silk cloth, about 30 inches wide and 43 feet long, which proceeds suspended and held by many cords by men on horseback. Those men number 25, and are farmers (bugisatu) mounted on their best mules who parade Spanish style, that is, dressed in rich headdresses embroidered in colored silk, beautifully surrounding the mules’ ears with silk tassels on the ends and a large central tassel that falls from the forehead down to the end of the muzzle, lengths of this same material, embroidered in the same way have small silver bells that make a delightful tinkling sound.

The rider’s rich trappings (verdeddi di sita) are luxurious, complete with a special breastplate, belt, breeches (cudera) and wide crupper-straps ending with a sheath that covers and holds the animal’s tail; altogether the decoration is graceful and festive. The happy cavalcade, climbing up those 66 steps, nostrils and mouths gaping open, panting, huffing and puffing, arrives in the courtyard of the Mother Church: a true aesthetic and traditional gaiety is felt by all.

Qiitmnu S. Antuninu era mahitu Tutti li Santi lu jent a vidiri. La Madunnnzza cci purtan un granatu, Lu Bammineddu dii puma gintili, E pd cci dissi: Cuvernati, piatu, Chi ‘mparaddisu navem’a vidiri.

S. Antuninu La vostra santita Pruteggi ogni mischinu E la inrginitd Vi preu cu affettu e avturi D’essirirni Prutitturi E procurannn la bona sorti; Fatimi preu, ‘na sauta morti.

When St. Anthony was sick
All the Saints went to see (visit) him.
Sweet Madonna brought him a pomegranate,
Baby Jesus brought him two (white) apples,

And then He (Baby Jesus) said to him: Take comfort, dear one,
that, in Paradise, we will surely see each other.

Saint Anthony

May your holiness
Protect every poor soul
And their innocence
I pray with affection and love

For you to be my protector
And gain for me a good outcome;
Give me grace, (for) a happy death.

(Translation: Annette Chiappetta Rovello).


Background on Saint Anthony of Padua

(Source: Catholic Online Saints and Angels Directory)

Feast Day: June 13 Patron Saint of Lost Things Birth: 1195 Death: 1231 Canonized By: Pope Gregory IX in 1232

Saint Anthony was born Fernando Martins in Lisbon, Portugal. He was born into a wealthy family and by the age of fifteen asked to be sent to the Abbey of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, the then capital of Portugal. During his time in the Abbey, he learned theology and Latin.

Following his ordination to the priesthood, he was named guestmaster and was responsible for the abbey’s hospitality. When Franciscan friars settled a small hermitage outside Coimbra dedicated to Saint Anthony of Egypt, Fernando felt a longing to join them.

Fernando eventually received permission to leave the Abbey so he could join the new Franciscan Order. When he was admitted, he changed his name to Anthony.

Anthony then traveled to Morocco to spread God’s truth, but became extremely sick and was returned to Portugal to recover. The return voyage was blown off-course and the party arrived in Sicily, from which they traveled to Tuscany. Anthony was assigned to the hermitage of San Paolo after local friars considered his health.

As he recovered, Anthony spent his time praying and studying.

An undetermined amount of time later, Dominican friars came to visit the Franciscans and there was confusion over who would present the homily. The Dominicans were known for their preaching, thus the Franciscans assumed it was they who would provide a homilist, but the Dominicans assumed the Franciscans would provide one. It was then the head of the Franciscan hermitage asked Antony to speak on whatever the Holy Spirit told him to speak of.

Though he tried to object, Anthony delivered an eloquent and moving homily that impressed both groups. Soon, news of his eloquence reached Francis of Assisi, who held a strong distrust of the brotherhood’s commitment to a life of poverty. However, in Anthony, he found a friend.

In 1224, Francis entrusted his friars’ pursuits of studies to Anthony. Anthony had a book of psalms that contained notes and comments to help when teaching students and, in a time when a printing press was not yet invented, he greatly valued it.

When a novice decided to leave the hermitage, he stole Anthony’s valuable book. When Anthony discovered it was missing, he prayed it would be found or returned to him. The thief did return the book and in an extra step returned to the Order as well.

The book is said to be preserved in the Franciscan friary in Bologna today.

Anthony occasionally taught at the universities of Montpellier and Toulouse in southern France, but he performed best in the role of a preacher.

So simple and resounding was his teaching of the Catholic Faith, most unlettered and the innocent could understand his messages. It is for this reason he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946.

Once, when St. Anthony of Padua attempted to preach the true Gospel of the Catholic Church to heretics who would not listen to him, he went out and preached his message to the fish. This was not, as liberals and naturalists have tried to say, for the instruction of the fish, but rather for the glory of God, the delight of the angels, and the easing of his own heart. When critics saw the fish begin to gather, they realized they should also listen to what Anthony had to say.

He was only 35-years-old when he died and was canonized less than one year afterward by Pope Gregory IX. Upon exhumation some 336 years after his death, his body was found to be corrupted, yet his tongue was totally incorrupt, so perfect were the teachings that had been formed upon it.

He is typically depicted with a book and the Infant Child Jesus and is commonly referred to today as the “finder of lost articles.”

St Anthony is venerated all over the world as the Patron Saint for lost articles, and is credited with many miracles involving lost people, lost things and even lost spiritual goods.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: ]