Postcard from Portugal: Pilgrimage to the birthland of San Antonio’s patron saint

Part of the excuse for extending our stay in Portugal until mid-June was to ensure we were there for the Feast Day of Saint Anthony of Padua, June 13, the anniversary of his death at age 36 in the year 1231. Actually, the celebration is more than a day. In Lisbon, the party in honor of Saint Anthony lasts throughout June.

While we call him “of Padua,” he wasn’t from there. He only ended up in Italy because his ship was blown off course during a storm. He was born in Lisbon and studied in Coimbra, and the Portuguese have not forgotten him. His images, and a few personal relics, are everywhere.

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They love him. And why not? Few saints are more versatile than Saint Anthony in the types of prayers answered.

So, following my pilgrimage to the homeland of the my city’s patron saint, I wanted to share, in layman’s terms, a few of the things every San Antonian should know about him:

  • Saint Anthony must have been fearless. His prime inspiration for becoming a Franciscan was the story of the five Franciscans beheaded by Moors for preaching in Morocco. He yearned to follow in their footsteps.
  • Forget being impressed by horse-whisperers. Sparrows would flock to hear Saint Anthony preach. A stubborn mule would bow to take sacrament from his hands. Early on, when heretics ignored him, he turned to preach to the fishes in the river, who all popped their heads up, mouths agape, and listened attentively as long as he cared to speak.
  • Saint Anthony was such a silver-tongued orator, rock stars would envy the crowds he attracted. His final sermons had to be given far out in the countryside in the open air to accommodate the thousands who swarmed to bear witness. He needed bodyguards to keep from being stripped naked by those who wanted to snip off scraps of his robes to remember him.
  • His popularity was so great and miracles so obvious, Pope Gregory IX had to put him on the ultra-fast track to sainthood. He was canonized within a year of his death, and there was none of the fudging about waiving confirmation of a second miracle like Pope Francis had to grant for Pope John XXIII.
  • Saint Anthony protects sailors, stemming from the miracle that his ship was merely blown off-course and not destroyed in a storm. Maybe Rio San Antonio Cruises should consider breaking the all-female naming tradition and christen one barge in his honor with a little statue of him on the bow.
  • Saint Anthony helps you find lost and stolen things. This stems from a story of a naughty novice who nicked Anthony’s psalter. Saint Anthony sent such a fearful devil of an ax-wielding creature after him, the repentant man scurried back and returned the book. Some of us would find Saint Anthony’s blessing handy every time we head to the car.
  • Saint Anthony’s been known to appear to guide lost travelers. Those tourists driving the wrong way down a one-way street downtown yesterday sure needed him on their dashboard.
  • Saint Anthony helps fishermen, which means bountiful fresh sardines in Portugal during his Feast Month. You might not think that is a good thing, but grilled fresh sardines are moist and sweet. Celebrating St. Anthony’s Month would provide San Antonio with a good excuse to promote their importation.
  • And what’s better than sardines? Wine. Faced with a drained keg on his arrival in Provence, Saint Anthony refilled it to the amazement of all.
  • In Portugal, people give each other gifts of sweet basil on Saint Anthony’s Day. Wow, how perfect for here. By mid-June everyone in San Antonio could use a fresh pot of basil to replace their summer-stressed straggly ones.
  • Even the poor get bread on St. Anthony’s Feast Day. Unsure whether this tradition stems from the French baker who promised to give bread to the poor if only the shop door would open; the mother who pledged to distribute her child’s weight in wheat if Saint Anthony would bring him back to life (which of course he did); or parents donating bread when placing their children under the saint’s protection. He was such an ardent protector of children, it is claimed that the infant Jesus was seen visiting him in his cell.
  • Saint Anthony not only can heal the sick and bring the recently deceased back to life, he can reattach limbs. A man confessed to Saint Anthony that he had kicked his mother. Taking his penance a little too literally, the man went home and chopped off his own foot. Upon hearing this, Saint Anthony kindly went to the sinner’s home and reattached his severed foot.
  • Saint Anthony helps single women find husbands. Needless to say, grateful brides are honored to be chosen to be part of the multiple-wedding ceremony held on his day.
  • And this is truly cool. Superman has to disappear from one place to fly off to do superhuman feats elsewhere, but Saint Anthony could bilocate. This meant he could be preaching a sermon, suddenly remember he was supposed to be up in the loft singing in the choir and do both at once. But it also meant that when his father was falsely accused of murder in Lisbon, Anthony – then based in Padua – was able to appear in court in Lisbon in support of his father. This feat was made even more impressive when Saint Anthony brought the murder victim back to life to offer his testimony as well, leaving no doubt as to the innocence of the saint’s father.

These tales may seem hard to believe, but everyone wants to believe in miracles. Faith is powerful. But enough about miracles for now.

A pair of Spaniards, Father Damian Massanet and Domingo Teran de los Rios, both claim to have named this place in June of 1691.

We just need to be grateful the explorers entered the land the Native Americans called Yanaguana on Saint Anthony’s Day.

And San Antonio certainly needs another excuse for a citywide party.

New World Wine Festival Shifts to New San Antonio

The New World Wine and Food Festival gets underway on Wednesday, May 12, with Sip, Savor & Shop.  Shop?  Stop.  What is happening?

Only four months ago we were cruising around the river bend, courtesy of JoAnn Boone of Rio San Antonio Cruises, enjoying appetizers from Boudro’s while listening to Richard and Bunny Becker talk about their vineyard’s wines, including their best-seller, the cleverly named Iconoclast.  This was part of the 2009 version of the New World Wine and Food Festival.  

But it seems that the festival has succumbed to the strong polar pull that makes San Antonio’s growth so lopsided.  The festival is linking up with the Valero Texas Open, played on the AT&T Oaks Course, which means much of the festival occurs at the brand-spanking new JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa.

Sipping and savoring while saving on shopping at La Cantera, including the VIP Bubbles Event at Tiffany’s (sorry, no breakfast), will probably be extremely popular; as will Burgers, BBQ, Beer and Texas Spirits at the resort on May 13.  The burger event should easily be a sell out in fact.  It will appeal not only to those on retreat at the resort, but they are bringing in Robert Earl Keen, who attracts rather large numbers of rambunctious fans.  Amazingly, the price for a package, including a spectator pass for Round One of the Texas Open, the 6 p.m. burger event and the Keen concert, is $55. 

$55 also admits one to Round Three on Saturday, combined with The Best of Mexico, “celebrating all the treasures of high end Mexican haute cuisine,” and entertainment at the resort’s music pavilion.  Hopefully, JW’s kitchen will be ready to pull all of this off by May (Read Ed Tijerina’s initial review .) and somehow manage to exude the San Antonio flavor the festival advertises.

Although JW does boast of its “1200-foot lazy river”  – unlike the real thing, chlorinated – the New World Grand Tasting Friday night, May 14, takes place along the actual San Antonio River (well, technically an extension of it) in the Convention Center Lagoon.  No golf package offered that day.

Ever since the time of King Tut, the common folk have swilled beer while the upper crust sips wine; so I guess it only makes sense to follow the money northward.  Maybe this post is all sour grapes because I tend toward a phobia that Lynne Rosetto Kasper of Public Radio’s Splendid Table once referred to as oeno-something-phobia, defined as “fear of an empty wine glass.” 

While the road might go on forever without the party ending for Robert Earl, Texas law dictates the party has to end when one has to drive forever to get back home.  I prefer to walk into town to attend wine-centric events; no need to have a designated walker to return home. 

The New World Wine and Food Festival organizers are trying to ease the pain for commuters by reducing the price for designated deprived ones:

To ensure a fun and safe time for everyone, The NWWFF* offers a special Designated Driver Ticket. These heroes help transport their friends and family to and from the festival safely.  These guys pledge not to drink alcohol at our festival events, and are rewarded with 50% off admission special ticket!  Designated Drivers enjoy all other aspects of the festival including great food, demonstrations and lectures, but any Designated Drivers found consuming alcohol during the event will be asked to leave. NWWFF continues our partnership with taxi services to provide alternate transportation for those who may need it.

Somehow I had envisioned the evolution of the Wine Festival centering around single-proprietor restaurants and the Culinary Institute of  America at Pearl, not a Marriott Resort.  But, no double bogey here, the festival probably is hitting the financial equivalent of a hole in one and will emerge securely in the black as a result of deciding to combine with the Texas Open.  I only hope attendees get some sense of being in San Antonio.

The best way to make sure out-of-towners attending the Wine Festival experience San Antonio hospitality is to up and volunteer to extend it.  They need you. 

*The Wine Festival’s choice to use initials, not mine.  Please discontinue.  That alphabet-combo will remain meaningless for the public.

Teaching Teachers about the River

Arm a teacher with a curriculum rich in content and experience-based activities, and the impact of the lesson is multiplied many times over as the teacher shares it with students.  That is the basis for the San Antonio Conservation Society‘s annual, tuition-free seminar focusing on the built environment. 

River of Dreams, the 2010 seminar led by educator Bill Perryman at the end of February, focused on the history and impact of the San Antonio River.  The new Architecture Foundation of San Antonio partnered with the Conservation Society, a partnership that lent access to the stunning, contemporary offices of the American Institute of Architects San Antonio at Pearl

Following lunch from The Filling Station, Perryman led a walking tour of the Museum Reach focusing on historical landmarks, environmental issues addressed by the construction project, public art, the engineering of the locks and dam and what the project means for the city.  JoAnn Boone of Rio San Antonio Cruises completed the educational experience by contributing a barge ride through the locks…

And while the teachers were not provided with margaritas to test the smooth ascent to the northern stretch of the river, they grasped that the locks fulfilled Ms. Boone’s requisite for successful navigation of cocktail barges to and from Pearl and downtown.