The Oratory of Saint Anthony – seen in the detail – along with the newly restored colonial pediment of the convent´s church.

Dear readers,

The June 13th is the day when Catholic Church celebrates one of the most popular patron saints of Portuguese culture – if not the most popular one. Many are the sympathies driven to the saint by those who desire to find someone to marry, making him known as the “matchmaker saint”. In Rio de Janeiro, the devotion to this saint is widespread, and it was in Rio that he “has lived” a very special passage, at the same time picturesque and odd, just to say the least…

We are talking about, of course, Saint Anthony. He was born in Lisbon and died in Padua[1], and therefore he is Saint Anthony of Padua for the italians and Saint Anthony of Lisbon for the rest of the world. His baptism name was Fernando Martins de Bulhões, he was born on August 15th, 1195,[2] and adopted the name Anthony after another saint, Saint Anthony the Great, who lived in Egypt between centuries III and IV AD.

What about of Saint Anthony´s military facet, have you ever heard about it?

I can explain. It happened during one of the – many – French invasions to the city. When, in 1710, the fleet of six vessels and more than a thousand men led by French corsair Jean François Duclerc invaded Rio, marching decided toward the citadel from the Great Island (Ilha Grande) across the backwoods of Guaratiba and Jacarepaguá, the local governor, Francisco de Castro Morais[3], besides from organizing the defensive troops for the imminent combat, hurried to Saint Anthony´s Convent (Convento de Santo Antonio), in Carioca Square (Largo da Carioca), to ask for the saint´s divine intervention in the contention.[4]

Four hundred Frenchmen lost their lives in the battle and seven hundred were captured, including the commander Duclerc.[5] [6] Castro Morais strategy of “listing” the saint for war went satisfactory – at least that was the governor´s evaluation who, extremely grateful, and for the first time in Brazilian territory, repeating a long existing Portuguese tradition, named the “wood soldier” as Captain of Infantry, entitled to salary and much more![7]

But the story doesn´t stop there. The chroniclers tell us that the event has impressed so deeply the imagination of the Prince Regent Dom João when he arrived in Brazil, in his desperate scape from Napoleon, in 1808, that he decided not only to maintain the saint´s salary but also to promote the saint to a new rank – sergeant major, in 1810, and lieutenant colonel, in 1813.

Sculpted in Rio de Janeiro in the beginnings of the seventeenth century, made of polychrome terracotta, the saint´s image – called Santo Antonio e o Menino or Santo Antonio do Relento -, stays inside a niche at the convent´s concierge and kept receiving his pay even after the Proclamation of the Republic! It was only in 1911 that Saint Anthony was dismissed from his doubly secular rank, for the misfortune of the Franciscan friars who used to “take care” of the money for him…

It is reproduced here on the top of the post – inside the red circle – and below, highlighted.

[1] He died on June 13th, according to the catholic tradition.

[2] There is much controversy about the saint´s exact name and date of birth.

[3] It is said that the population has never fully accepted this governor, charging him as coward and fearful and naming him “O Vaca” (The Cow).

[4] Castro Morais was simply putting into practice an old portuguese invocation – the one that claimed that Saint Anthony was a good fighter.

[5] After his defeat, it is said that Duclerc remained living in the city, on his own free will. The historians tell that he was even beginning to enjoy his quiet stay in Rio. One night, on March 1711, however, his life was taken in circumstances still today mysterious.

[6] A year later, in 1711, Rio was not going to have the same luck. Another corsair, René Duguay Trouin, much better armed than his fellow countryman, took the city as a hostage for 40 days, and this was the very only occasion when Rio de Janeiro was kept under foreign domination.

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