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 – aka the Festas de Lisboa
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.
What to Do in Lisbon During the Feast of Santo António
The Thrones of 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.
Lisboetas normally stay in their own neighborhoods for the feasts, but if you want to be in the middle of things you will want to go to:
Vila Berta is a micro-neighborhood in Graça that was built over 100 years ago. Before it was a neighborhood, it was a Joaquim Francisco Tojal, owner of a farm in Graça. He made the decision to take a part of the farm and make it residential. The place is beautiful, it is only 1 block long and has the original architecture of the place along with his personal chalet.
The Festas de Santos Populares em Lisboa at Vila Berta once included decorated ox carts.
Today, locals open up the street so that everyone can celebrate with them. There is dancing, sardines, bifanhas, live music, and tons more.
What you need to know about the Festa de Santo Antonio at Vila Berta:
- It gets really crowded. If you don’t like crowds, this is not for you.
- The streets are closed to cars during the main celebrations. So you can take a taxi or uber nearby…but you will have to walk the hills.
Look up Rua do Capelão. This is a tiny, narrow street that leads you into the heart of the Mouraria (you’ll recognize the street by the fado guitar sculpture). Once it turns into Rua Guida, you will encounter the smell of sardines. This spot is a touch less crowded than Vila Berta and tons of fun. There is music, locals parade, drinks and tons of fun.
For more information on Santo Antonio’s Feas, check out the Camara Municipal de Lisboa.