Popular Saints

Santo de casa não faz milagre!

Perplexed by this initial burst of mumbo-jumbo you rush for Google Translate.

House saint does not make miracle. Hmm…

Let’s try a couple more.

Nem ata nem desata Not minutes or unties
Casa de ferreiro espeto de pau Wooden skewer blacksmith shop
As bruxas estão a pentear-se Witches are to comb

Maybe we need Google Aphorism, because none of these make any sense.

But if you do need a miracle, you can’t trust your own saints to do the job—that’s how consulting firms make their money.

In Brazil, and all over South America, many saints are revered, one of the exports from Iberia over the XVIth and XVIIth centuries. A couple of these made it to the USA—St. Christopher comes to mind—but in general you only come across saints as place names: San Francisco, Saint Augustine, San Antonio.

In Portuguese, san becomes santo, or são.

Santo António is the first of the so-called popular saints, celebrated in Portugal throughout the month of June. Anthony is the saint revered in the city of Lisbon, and June 13th is his day.

The siege of Lisbon, in 1147. The crusaders stopped off to lend a hand.

The siege of Lisbon, in 1147. The crusaders stopped off to lend a hand.

Although  Anthony died in Padua, Italy, he was born in Lisbon in 1195. The city was only conquered from the Moors in 1147, a mere eight years after Portugal became independent.

In 1139, a landmark battle was fought at a place called Ourique between Afonso Henriques and his Moorish enemies. The battlefield may have been in one of two provinces: Ribatejo (arriba do Tejo, or above the Tagus river), or Alentejo (alem do Tejo, or beyond, i.e. to the south of the river).

Although the more northern location is less credible from a strategic point of view, the aptly named Vale dos Ossos—Valley of Bones—is nearby, and contains the remains of many human skeletons. A little bit of carbon dating and genome analysis would go a long way to clarify the historical aspects—after all, if you can do it for Neanderthal man…

By all accounts a miracle was worked at Ourique by San Tiago, or Saint James, who did happen to be one the ‘house saints’—his sobriquet was Sao Tiago Matamouros, or Moorkiller, and the Portuguese considered him the patron saint in the fight against the infidel.

James stepped in and told the Portuguese leader that he would win the battle, despite being strongly outnumbered by the opposition. Afonso Henriques was so overwhelmed by his victory that he proclaimed himself king of Portugal, thereby creating a new kingdom—almost nine hundred years later, it has the oldest established borders in all of Europe, and has been under foreign rule only once during 1580-1640, when it was occupied by Spain.

Saint Anthony will have belonged to only the second generation born in Lisbon after the Moors were expelled. He was christened Fernão, the ancient Lusitanian form of Fernando, just as the spy Pero da Covilhã would nowadays be called Pedro.

His father is said to be Martin de Bouillon, whose name was translated locally as de Bulhões, and allegedly his great-great-grandfather was Godfrey of Bouillon. Godfrey was a Frankish knight, and leader of the first crusade; he conquered Jerusalem and became its king, but never used that designation—Godfrey asserted only Christ could play that role.

Family tree of Godfrey V, Duke of Lower Lorraine (from friesian.com)

Family tree of the dukes of Lorraine, from friesian.com

Godfrey was born around 1060 in what is now Southern Belgium, and died on September 18th 1100—a number of Anglo-Saxon sources report he died childless. That may be because he was unmarried, and illegitimate offspring do not appear.

Other sources claim he was married to Sybilla d’Anjou, and had two children, Ida and Godfrey. The latter moved to Castille and sired Martin, who sired Vincent Martin, who in turn sired the child who later became Saint Anthony.

The timing works, with a gap of around a century for four generations, but two questions remain: XVth century authors state Anthony’s father, rather than his grandfather, was called Vicente, and Sybilla is chronicled to have lived between 1112 and 1165—she could never have met Godfrey.

It is reasonable to assume the saint’s grandfather took part in the siege of Lisbon during the second crusade, and like many other crusaders, settled there. Whether he was a de Bouillon of such exalted lineage is uncertain.

Anthony was the second son, and therefore destined for priesthood. Unlike Vasco da Gama, who renounced tonsure in his early teens, Fernão de Bulhões embraced the religious calling.

After Fernão joined the Franciscans and changed his name to António, news arrived that five monks had been beheaded in Morocco, not so different from what is happening presently in Syria and Iraq.

Anthony journeyed to Morocco to continue where the others left off, spreading god’s word. We next find the patron saint of children and lost souls in Italy, convalescing from illness contracted in North Africa.

In Lisbon, he is celebrated with sardines and wine. The traditional neighborhoods of the city open their arms to strangers, in a street festival where makeshift barbecues are set up on every street corner.

By June, the microscopic algae and tiny animals on which the fish feed are plentiful,  and the sardines grow big and fat.

It’s a tradition too for young Lisbon couples to marry on the day of St. Anthony. The days are sunny and warm, but not this year.

With the rain pouring down, the best you can hope for is boda molhada boda abençoada (a rainy wedding is blessed). Now that has to be a Portuguese saying—if it worked in England, all matrimony would a marriage made in heaven.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


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