St. Anthony the Abbot, 17 January
The Temptation of St. Anthony
Though he belonged to a rather wealthy family, from an early age he showed little interest in the flattery and luxury of worldly life: to parties and banquets he preferred work and meditation, and on the death of his parents he distributed all his wealth to the poor. He chose to live as a hermit and retired into solitude, to work and pray, at first near his hometown and later in the desert.
Here he spent many years living in an ancient rock-hewn tomb, struggling against the temptations of the devil, who often appeared to him to show what he could have done if he had remained in the world. Sometimes the devil appeared as a ferocious beast - often as a pig - in order to frighten him, but to these temptations Anthony responded with fasting and penance of any kind, always managing to triumph.
His reputation as a hermit soon spread among the faithful and Anthony, who wanted to live totally detached from the rest of the world, was repeatedly forced to change his place of "residence" to escape the crowds of people who flocked to him from all over to get his advice and see him. Around 311 he went to Alexandria to give aid and comfort to the Christians persecuted by Emperor Maximian, and then retired to the Qolzoum mountain along the Red Sea , but had to return to Alexandria shortly after to fight the Arian heresy, more and more widespread in the eastern regions of the empire.
Though he led a hard life, full of deprivation, Anthony was very long-lived: death (which he had predicted) took him at the age of 105, on the 17th of January 355 (or 356), in his hermitage on Mount Qolzoum. On his tomb, now the object of veneration by the faithful, a church and a monastery were built; his relics were brought to Constantinople in 635, then to France between the 9th and 10th centuries.
The meeting of Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Paul the Anchorite
The saint is considered a protector of cattle - that are blessed during the festival - of swineherds, butchers and charcutiers, and in the past his image was placed above stable doors; Anthony is also the patron saint of bakers, was also invoked to ward off the fire, and not coincidentally his name is linked to herpes zoster, popularly known as "shingles" or "sacred fire".
Anthony is celebrated almost everywhere, from north to south, in the Italian territory, with blessings of farm animals, bonfires ("Falò di S. Antonio"), burlesque performances and feasts.
Visitation of Mary to Elisabeth, with St. Nicholas and St. Anthony
St. Anthony patron of farm animals
Farm animals, pets, even monkeys and parrots, are brought to the church to have them blessed by the priest. Until 1870, in Rome, the blessing was held in front of the church of St. Antonio on the Esquiline, while now it takes place in front of Sant'Eusebio, where horse-drawn carriages and the festively decorated horses of the Apostolic Palaces are taken in a parade. At Pinerolo, in Piedmont, as well as in other places, the blessing is followed by a "galoppata".
In some places, when the statue of Saint Anthony appears at the door of the church and the stick is shaken to make the bell jingle, or after the blessing with holy water, a horse ride typically begins. The priest who attends the procession receives a pittance and then distributes the "Pani di Sant'Antonio", popularly believed to heal livestock.
Patronage of fire
Fire is one of the attributes associated with St. Anthony, to the point that some disorders characterized by skin rashes as Herpes zoster are still called "St. Anthony's fire". This disease repeatedly stormed Europe between the 10th and 16th centuries, and it was in this period that the belief in St. Anthony's powers against it became widespread.
Vision of Our Lady with St. Anthony and St. George
Another tradition associated with St. Anthony the Abbot, since he defeated the Devil and the flames of hell, is that of bonfires: huge piles of wood, lit on the forecourts of churches, or on threshing floors. At Fara Filiorum Petri in Abruzzo and some villages in Puglia, bundles of reeds called "farchie" are used instead of wood. Everyone then brings home some burning coal, as a defense against lightning. Always in Abruzzo, groups of young people with masks go around from house to house to sing the "Sant'Antonio": one personifies the Holy Hermit, there is also often a crowd of devils, a temptress girl and an angel that brings comfort.
St. Anthony protector against the devil
Once upon a time in Castelbasso, Abruzzo, January 17 was a calendar holiday; in the days immediately before "lu Sand'Andonie" (a ballad on the Saint's life) would be sung through the alleys and before the homes of peasants, who offered products of their work as gifts, while on the evening of the 16th "lu fucarane" (bonfire) was lit. On the morning of the 17th peasants would go to Mass taking their loaves of bread which were blessed and given in small pieces also to farm animals, while making a sign of cross on their right thighs.
The Temptations of St. Anthony
Sr. Anthony in Art and Iconography
- Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo, probably Cortona, circa 1400 - Siena, 1450): St Antony beaten by the devils (1430-32), paint on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena
- Sassetta: The meeting of Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Paul the Anchorite (1445 about), painting on wood(47.5 × 34.5 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington (D.C.)
- Pisanello (Antonio di Puccio Pisano, Verona before 1395 - probably Naples, about 1455): Vision of Our Lady with St. Anthony and St. George (1445 circa), paint on wood, 47 × 29 cm, National Gallery, London
- Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521): Visitation of Mary to Elisabeth, with St. Nicholas and St. Anthony (1480-1490), oil on wood 184 × 189 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington (D.C.), previously in the Cappella Capponi in Santo Spirito, Florence
- Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450 - 1516) St. Anthony's altar, triptych, central panel: The Temptation of St. Anthony (1505-1506), oil on wood, 131.5 × 119 cm, National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon
- Diego Velázquez (1599-1660): Saint Paul the Anchorite is visited by Saint Anthony the Great (1635-1638), oil on canvas, 261 × 192 cm, Museo del Prado Madrid
- David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690): The Temptation of St. Anthony (1633 - 1667), oil on copper plate, 55 × 69 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid
- Paul Cézanne (1839-1906): The Temptations of St. Anthony, circa 1877, oil on canvas, 47 × 56 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris