Saint Anthony- The Later Years
The miracle of the miser's heart
The 13th century marked a turning point in the economic history of Europe. Previous to this time, people generally depended upon subsistence farming to meet their needs. Each farm and each village were relatively autonomous, for trade was difficult and dangerous. Cities were small and highly dependent upon their immediate environs for the necessities of life.
The great pilgrimages of the late Middle Ages and the Crusades changed this. Slowly people began to trade with more distant lands, and to depend upon goods brought from outside of their world. As trade developed, the cities grew. Simple barter was insufficient, and a money economy developed.
St. Anthony preaching in the public square
Along with trade and money, there was also a growth of unscrupulous business practices, e.g. usury (the lending of money at exorbitant rates of interest), debtors prisons, etc. Anthony, like the other friars, preached a detachment from the goods of this world. They condemned the exploitative business practices of their day, especially usury.
Once Anthony preached at the funeral of a money lender. He told his listeners that they should not bury his body in consecrated ground, for his soul was already suffering the torments of hell.
He said that the man's heart was no longer in his body, but that the Gospel had been fulfilled, "For where your treasure is, there will be your heart (Mt 6,21; Lk 12,34)." They opened up the man's side and found that his heart was missing, but they found it when they opened up his treasure chest.
Defender of the Oppressed
Anthony preaching from the walnut tree
Anthony always defended those who were powerless and incapable of defending themselves. He proclaimed the dignity of every person. He did this not only while he was preaching to the crowds, but also when he stood before those who were known to be cruel tyrants.
One of his contemporaries wrote, "Anthony, who had so avidly desired to die a martyr, did not give in to anyone, even if it might cost him his life; with enormous courage he resisted the tyranny of the mighty. He stood up to certain powerful figures so firmly that other preachers, even the most famous, trembled before his resolution and were smitten with fear."
Far from closing himself behind the safe and tranquil walls of an abbey library as in his earlier years, Anthony now bore witness to the truth in the corridors of power and in the market places of his world. He proved that the Gospel was alive and relevant to the people of his times.
The most famous story concerning his political courage involves a certain Ezzelino da Romano. Ezzelino belonged to the political party known as the Ghibellines. Both they and their opponents, the Guelphs, were famous for their conniving and blood-thirstiness, and Ezzelino was considered by all to be a master in the art of treachery. Ezzelino was holding certain Guelphs as prisoners, threatening to execute them. Anthony courageously stood before him and called him to conversion. He repented his ways, only to turn back to his old tricks after Anthony had left.
Anthony and the Christ Child
Anthony beholding the Christ Child
By 1231, the many journeys he had made and the many illnesses he had suffered had taken their toll. Anthony was suffering from dropsy, and his strength had all but failed him. All throughout Lent of 1231 he preached to ever increasing crowds in Padua, but his preaching and the endless hours of confessions left him prostrate. Around this time, Anthony had a premonition of his approaching death.
The friars invited Anthony to go to Camposampiero, a town not far from Padua, so that he might recover his strength. Count Tiso had been one of the unscrupulous politicians seen in the previous account, but after hearing Anthony preach, he converted and donated a plot of land to the friars on which a hermitage was built.
The ground was damp at this time of year, and it aggravated Anthony's illness. This problem was solved when the friars noticed Anthony admire an immense walnut tree on the property. They told Tiso about it, and he had a small tree house built in the walnut tree for Anthony.
One night Count Tiso was passing by Anthony's room when he was attracted by a powerful light. At first he thought that it must be a fire, and so he burst into the room. There he saw Anthony in ecstasy embracing the Infant Jesus. Anthony begged Tiso not to tell anyone what he had seen, and Tiso respected the Saint's wishes until after his death.
I See My Lord
People look on as Anthony
is carted to Padua
The care of Count Tiso and of the friars was not enough to bring Anthony back to health. On June 13, 1231, Anthony came down from his tree house to eat the noonday meal with the friars. They had scarcely begun when he collapsed into their arms. As the friars supported him, he whispered to them that he wished to be taken to Padua so that he might die there. He wanted to spend his last hours in the friary which he loved so much near the Church of Santa Maria.
The friars put him on a cart and travelled toward Padua, but Anthony was already too weak to make it. As they approached a Poor Clare monastery in Arcella, a town close to Padua, they decided that it would be best to take him there.
Anthony on his deathbed
After he was anointed by a priest, he intoned the hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, "0 Glorious Queen, exalted above the stars!"
The friars noticed that he was gazing attentively at something, and so they asked him what he saw. He responded, "I see my Lord." Shortly after that he passed away.
The friars tried to keep Anthony's death a secret lest his body be stolen, but almost immediately children were seen running through the streets of Padua calling out, "The Saint is dead. Friar Anthony is dead."
He was only 36 years old, but he had travelled thousands of miles in his missions and he had preached to countless thousands of the faithful.
St. Anthony of Padua
A family of pilgrims at
the tomb of St. Anthony
The friars carried the body from Arcella where he died to the Church of Santa Maria. That same evening miracles began to occur at the site of the tomb. The fame which Anthony had acquired during his life was redoubled in his death.
The bishop of Padua, and Pope Gregory IX, immediately began to promote his canonization. Anthony was so well known and his holiness so universally attested that the investigation lasted less than a year. On May 30, 1232, Pope Gregory canonized Anthony of Padua.
The friars, the people of Padua, and the ever increasing number of pilgrims who visited the tomb of the Saint all worked together to begin construction on a majestic basilica. In 1263 the friars transferred St. Anthony's remains into the new church built in his honor. When the casket holding his body was opened to verify its contents, the tongue and the vocal cords of the Saint, the instruments with which he had glorified God in so many homilies, were found to be intact.
Today St. Anthony is truly a universal saint, respected and venerated even by non-Christians. He is especially known as the patron saint of the lost, for all throughout his life he restored things back to people who had lost them: for some it was their health, for others their hope, for still others their virtue, and for many their faith. Today, as in the 13th century, we call out, "St. Anthony, pray for us!"