Saturday, August 8, 2009

Basilica di Sant Antonio of Padua

Each year, thousands of people crowd the deep marble bas-reliefs to place their hands on the Tomba di Sant'Antonio (Tomb of Saint Anthony) with framed requests, thanks, and prayers. While we made our trip to Padua (Padova) in search of Ikea for some much needed household items, we couldn't resist a trip to the famed Basilica.

With many streets under construction, we found ourselves on the backside of the huge Basilica with a river and walls blocking our entrance. Following others who parked on the same street and looking like they knew where they were going much more than we did, we found ourselves finally at the Basilica.

Being denied entrance because I was clad in shorts, I purchased a scarf at one of the many street vendors in the Piazza del Santo, fashioned myself a skirt of acceptable length, and was permitted inside. Not only is the dress code strictly enforced, no photography is allowed in the Basilica.

Before leaving the central nave, observe the great fresco by Pietro Annigoni, finished in 1985 on the counter facade, depicting St. Anthony preaching from the walnut tree. This episode from his life took place in Camposampiero (Padua) where the Saint, just before his death, spent a brief period of rest and reflection (from the second half of May to 13 June 1231).

To the right lies the Tomb of Saint Anthony, the heart of the Basilica. The Saint's tomb lies directly under the altar at head height. Here you will see visitors grasping the tomb in prayer and thanks. Continuing around, priests are at the ready to provide blessings in the Chapel of the Blessings. The Treasury Chapel (Cappella delle Reliquie) sits directly behind the main altar where you may admire the Saint's uncorrupted tongue, his jaw bone and other relics recovered during the recognition of his mortal remains. Do not expect it to be a tongue which is bright red in colour. It is still however an inexplicable fact, given that it is a very fragile part of the body that is usually among the first parts to disintegrate after death. More than 770 years have passed since St. Anthony died and this tongue is a perennial miracle, unique in history and full of religious significance.

Much of the left side of the Basilica is currently under construction, including the Chapel of Saint Anthony. Many busts rest along the arches near the entrance/exit of the Basilica so be sure to look up!