The bones of St. Anthony, the patron saint of Padua (Padova in Italian), are on display for a very limited period for the first time since 1981. Anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 pilgrims are expected to gaze upon the encased skeletal remains before they are entombed again on Saturday, February 20, 2010.
The remains are housed in the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, locally known as Il Santo. The Basilica is a large complex with multiple chapels, courtyards and even a museum of sacred art. After the saint’s death in 1233, construction of the Basilica began. Thirty years later, his remains were moved into an area behind the altar of the Chapel of Saint Anthony, and have been there ever since. A recent restoration caused the remains to be moved temporarily to the San Giacomo Chapel, but they will now return permanently to the Cappella dell’Arca.
Although born in Lisbon, Spain, Anthony spent most of his monastic life in Italy. After his ship landed unexpectedly on the shores of Sicily, he made his way to Assisi and there met the monk who would become St. Francis. Not many years later he was elected minister provincial of Emilia Romagna but after 3 years obtained a Papal release from this office in order to devote himself to preaching. He settled into the Santa Maria Monastery in Padua and wrote some of his most powerful sermons. In 1233, he died at the Poor Clare convent in Arcella while returning to Padua.
The Catholic Church canonized Anthony of Padua less than one year after his death, which is so far the fastest process for anyone considered for sainthood. He is the patron saint of lost or stolen items and lost causes. St. Anthony is also credited with miraculous cures and by tradition, those blessed by his healings show their gratitude by bringing offerings to his tomb. These offerings are usually fashioned from metal in the shape or other symbol of the body part that has been healed. Padua’s clergy have been keeping records of these offerings since 1466.
Padua city officials have been preparing for weeks by designing new flows of traffic and parking and providing additional shuttle buses. The Red Cross and various religious organizations are providing volunteers to assist the many visitors. No doubt this flood of the faithful will be an economic boon to Padua and its surrounding towns. This will just be another reason for the cittidani of Padova to love St. Anthony.