The Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua is one of the largest churches in the world, visited every year by more than 5 million pilgrims. The relics of Saint Anthony are here preserved.
In the Middle Ages there was no Basilica here, but only the small church of Santa Maria Mater Domini, where Anthony had stayed for about a year, before moving out of town. In 1231, when he realized that death was approaching, Anthony asked to be brought to Padua. But he died along the way, in the suburb of Arcella, June 13th. Soon after the works to build a church worthy of housing the remains of the Saint began. They ended in 1310 but there were some additions, changes and renovations in the following centuries, so that the church is a mixture of different styles.
Did you know that…
- Every year on June 13th Procession of the Relics of the Saint and his statue is made through the streets of Padua with the participation of thousands of people.
- The inhabitants of Padua call the Basilica of Saint Anthony simply il Santo [eel SAHN-toh], the Saint, as a form of intimacy and familiarity.
- In Goethe‘s Faust, Marthe asks Mephistopheles where her husband is. He replies: “He is buried in Padua, near St. Anthony, in a sacred place, in a fresh grave, forever”.
- In the film Holy Tongue (in Italian La lingua del Santo) by Paduan director Carlo Mazzacurati, two thieves steal the tongue of St. Anthony to ask for a high ransom.
My experience at the Basilica of Saint Anthony
When I get into il Santo I often feel overwhelmed by its majesty and the horror vacui that distinguish it. You must be prepared for the type of atmosphere that you breathe here, and to the fact that the place is austere and dark, and often full of people (not if you come early or at lunch). It is impossible to notice every detail of the decorations, there are too many and they leave you an impression of chaotic kitsch. Just consider that it has five different architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Byzantine, of the Renaissance and Baroque.
But don’t forget that this church is a symbol of hope for all believers. The Basilica is full of people coming from all over the world to ask for a pardon for their loved ones. It is very touching to see, around the tomb of the saint, many photos of people healed, and the messages expressing gratitude. When I went to visit the church the last time there were five pilgrims, praying, absorbed and contrite, leaning against the back of the tomb. One of them was kissing its cold surface. I felt so amiss.
For anyone who is not a believer, it is interesting to peek inside this “out of real the world” place and admire some of his treasures (especially the bronze works by Donatello).
It would be too long and complicated for me to explain all the parts that compose the church, so I will mention only a few major works and some interesting facts or data.
You can not take photos of the interior, even without flash, so I have none (but I saw many people taking pictures all the same).
The basilica has 2 bell towers and 8 domes, the central one is 67 meters high (including the golden angel).
Chapel of St. James a remarkable example of Gothic style, with frescoes by Altichiero da Zevio (Stories of St. James).
Chapel of St. Anthony. It is the true heart of the Basilica, because the tomb (called Arca) of the Saint is here. The marble reliefs on the walls tell the history and miracles of St. Anthony.
Chapel of the Blessed Luca. Next to the tomb of Saint Anthony is the grave of Luca Belludi, his disciple and friend. He attended the University of Padua and was a man of great culture. At his altar the Paduan students pray to overcome their study difficulties. The frescoes are in my opinion beautiful. They are by Giusto de Menabuoi.
Chapel of the Black Virgin. This is the original core of the Basilica, the ancient church of Santa Maria Mater Domini, in which St. Anthony certainly prayed.
Chapel of the Relics or Chapel of the Treasury. Behind the altar. It was built in the 1600s and contains the most precious relics (the tongue and the vocal apparatus of Anthony).
Main Altar. The builder (in 1895) was Camillo Boito (brother of Arrigo, librettist of Verdi’s Othello and Falstaff). In it were gathered all the masterpieces of Donatello, early Renaissance sculptor, before scattered in other places of the Basilica. They include a bronze Crucifix (about 1444) and 7 statues: The Virgin with Child and the Saints Francis, Antonio, Giustina, Daniel, Ludovico and Prosdocimus. Plus 13 panels and bas-reliefs on the sides.
Info and Tips
- Frescoes by Altichiero, Giusto de Menabuoi
- Statues by Donatello
- Relics and tomb of Saint Anthony
- Often crowded
- If you arrive during the Mass it is impossible to admire the Donatello statues
- No dogs allowed and strict dress code
- Pay attention to the dress code! You cannot enter the Basilica with clothing seen as inappropriate by the friars, so no shorts, no sleeveless tops or necklines, no short skirts. They do not provide with shawls at the entrance and if you are not dressed appropriately you could be asked to leave
- You can not enter with dogs, not even if you carry them in your arms
Piazza del Santo 11, Padua
Opening hours of the Basilica
Winter: 6.20 am- 6.45 pm
Summer: 6.20 am – 7.45pm
If you want to know the Mass Timetable please take a look on the official site of the Basilica