Prior to visiting The Basilica of Saint Anthony, known to the people of Padua as Il Santo (The Saint), two different friends on two different occasions told me of their emotional encounter with visiting "Saint Anthony." A good friend from my church in Pelham, NY told me that when he visited the Cathedral, he was moved to tears by the spectacle of believers praying on, and around Saint Anthony's tomb. He explained that written intentions and photographs are shoved in lattice work flanking the tomb. Even though he prepared me for the visual abundance of prayers, needs, intervention requests and devotions I would encounter, I was still humbled by the "crying out" of pilgrims quietly asking Il Santo for help. And I too, was moved to tears.
I saw a huge, muscular black man with palms and forehead touching the foot of Anthony's tomb, bowing in prayer. His stance of humility and devotion was moving... I saw countless pictures, especially of children, in the lattice work. Believers of every age and race were bringing their concerns to His alter. I was there in the evening just before closing. This turned out to be the best time to visit. I found this out a few days later when I returned at mid-day. Then, it was noisy, frenetic and busy with tourist. But my first encounter will be the one I will always remember. It doesn't take much for me to pray. I do it often. I was grateful to have the opportunity for some quite prayer and reflection in this semi-dark 13th century masterpiece of Roman and Gothic architecture.
Most Catholics will tell you that St. Anthony is who you go to to pray for lost things, either actual things, or lost hope, or faith. I am a Catholic, but raising my kids Episcopalian. This discussion is complicated and off topic for this blog. Visiting Il Santo did get me back to my Catholic roots. I relished the imposing grandeur and sumptuous artifacts filling the many sanctuaries of this Basilica, all dedicated to the glory of God.
What to Do:
Besides witnessing the faithful at Saint Anthony's tomb make sure you see The Chapel of the Relics (Treasury Chapel). My boy would have loved this. Here you'll find in a spectacular reliquary (a big opulent gold urn-type vessel) Saint Anthony's tongue! Above this is a reliquary of his jaw bone. Still another holds his voice box. Saint Anthony was known to preach with great fervor and learning. It is documented that he traveled thousands of kilometers preaching to tens of thousands of faithful. Perhaps it is fitting that these "vocal relics" remain in tact for both the faithful and curious to see.
If you feel called, visit the Blessings Chapel too. A Franciscan priest is available to bless visitor and pilgrims. It's a quiet, intiment chapel, not terribly intimidating and a blessing, said in Latin or Italian, can be good for the soul. Especially one that has been preoccupied by commitments of work or family.
What to Wear:
As with any Catholic Basilica the world over, do not wear shorts or no sleeves (I'm not sure if this applies to Saint Peter's in New York City, however). You may wear long pants and short sleeves. Dresses or skirts that are not too short are allowed. Many a faithful have been turned away from Cathedral doors by their attire, so consider what you are wearing before you go and dress respectfully.