I may have a new patron saint (and I’m not even religious). As you may know, I’m head over heels for Lisboa and right now the city is in full on celebration. Why? The Festas de Lisboa happen the entire month of June, with the highlight being the Santo António Feast on June 12. This guy was pretty cool. He was a nomad just like me (with a lot more challenges). The Lisbon-born saint, traveled to Coimbra, Morocco, Sicily, Southern France, and Northern Italy. Can you imagine what it took to complete all these travels in the 12th Century? Probably a miracle, or at least a lot of determination.
Lisbon’s Santo António Feast
A little background on Santo António
Santo António (Saint Anthony to us) was not only a nice guy. He was pretty learned even at a time when there were no universities. He was made a saint by the church just one year after his death, and his popularity in Lisbon is inescapable. If you just walk the city, you will see that something like one out of every five homes has either a shrine or azulejo dedicated to the city’s patron saint. You’ll see his likeness on the headboards of beds, buildings, businesses. He truly is everywhere.
But things weren’t always nice for this saint. Until today, Saint Anthony gets quite a bit of abuse. If you ask a favor of the saint and it is not granted in a speedy manner, you can torture his likeness in order to press him a bit to get to work.
Santo António is also the patron saint of marriage. On the 13th of June, Catholic churches will hand out the roll of Saint Anthony. When you get this bread, you are to put it in your kitchen with other household items so that you never lack for food and basics.
Traditions of the Feast of Santo Antonio
Grilled Sardines: The smell of grilled sardines takes over the city during the feast. Locals will grill sardines outside of their homes and eat them either on a plate or on bread. Try them, these aren’t the sardines you’ve had in the past. These are delicious.
Manjerico: This is a super cute rounded basil plant. If a boy likes a girl, he will give her one of these plants during the celebration with a paper carnation and a love poem attached. I say this is way better than a bouquet of flowers.
Events during the Santo António Feast
Altars to Santo António: June 3 & 4 – This tradition has been around since the 18th Century after the earthquake did significant damage to the saint’s church. The people of the city built shrines to the saint where alms were collected to renovate his church. The tradition stuck, and as you walk the city streets, you will see many homes decked out with shrines to the saint. A proper throne needs to have an image of the saint, a decorated cardboard box, a cloth to lay at the feet of the saint, a plate to collect the money for the saint, candles so people can make a request of the saint, and a basil plant (more on that later). The best ones are exhibited on the 3rd & 4th, but you can enjoy the beauty of this tradition throughout the city the entire month.
Brides of Santo António: June 12 – This is a very popular day to get married in Lisbon. The tradition started in 1958 when 25 couples got married at the church of Santo António. This was in order to help those 25 couples, who were not affluent, to be able to afford a wedding. The tradition is alive and well today, and quite lovely.
Procession of Santo António: June 13 – A tradition from the 16th Century, A statue of Santo António is brought out in a procession from the Santo António church. Rua das Pedras Negras 1.
Where to Enjoy Santo António Feast Celebrations
Lisbon has tons of neighborhoods, and all of them celebrate. However, if you want to be in the middle of it all, you should make it a point to go to La Mouraria, Alfama, Castelo, Bica, Estrela, Santos, Alcantara, Arroios, and Bairro Alto. In these neighborhoods, locals will bring out their grills to make sardines. There will be music, dancing, drinking, and merriment all around.
For more information on Santo Antonio’s Feas, check out the Camara Municipal de Lisboa.