Updated: Jan 18
We've thought of taking the famed pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain like many believers and non-believers before us, but we haven't done it yet. Finding ourselves in Venice, just a 30-minute train ride from Padua, where St. Anthony's Basilica and tomb are located, we decided to try a mini-pilgrimage. St. Anthony or San Antonio as he is known in Italy, is the patron saint of lost things - whether they are keys, health, love, or pretty much anything that an individual yearns for. Judging by the throngs of people that we came across at the Basilica when we visited on an otherwise quiet and overcast Sunday in Padua, he has granted many people the miracles they sought. His tomb is covered with photos of children and adults who have either left their notes in anticipation of a blessing or in thanks for one granted. Interior pictures of the church are forbidden although we saw plenty of people tempting fate by sneaking photos anyway. Ours, however, are limited to the outside.
As soon as visitors enter the Basilica of Saint Anthony, they are offered a helpful leaflet welcoming them as pilgrims. If you follow the path they suggest, you can learn a lot about the saint's life and receive a certificate at the end with your name imprinted verifying that you have completed the pilgrimage. There is no charge, but there is a donation box in case you want to contribute to the church's upkeep. The most important section of the shrine and the key experience is St. Anthony's tomb. It is here that the faithful are allowed to place their hands on the green marble while saying a silent prayer. It is striking how devout the crowd seems to be as there is complete silence while the line of people snakes slowly around the side chapel. The next stop is the Treasury Chapel which features a collection of relics. Saint Anthony was buried in the little chapel of Santa Maria Mater Domini in 1231. In 1263, the body was moved to the newly-built Basilica. It is considered a miracle that his tongue had not deteriorated and it was said to be a sign related to his preaching of Christianity. The tongue can still be seen in a gold reliquary. Also of interest are a wood fragment from the true cross, the saint's reddish woolen cassock and coins from his era that were found at the burial site. Several hours can be spent at the basilica exploring the gardens of the cloisters and admiring an equestrian statue near the church entrance that was sculpted by Donatello.