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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Teles da Gama, MA

A Brief History of the Museum of Saint Anthony in Lisbon

What is the Museum of Saint Anthony?

The Museum of Saint Anthony (Portuguese: Santo António) is a Church and branch of the Museu de Lisboa dedicated to the life of Lisbon’s patron saint, Anthony.


Museum of Saint Anthony

Museum of Saint Anthony History

Fernando Martins de Bulhões was born in Lisbon in 1195, into a wealthy family. One of the theories about the origin of his family's surname is that its members minted the bulhão, the first Portuguese coin, put into circulation by the nation’s first king, Afonso Henriques. When Fernando was 15 years old, he joined the Order of Saint Augustine, a brotherhood known for its cultural and intellectual pre-eminence, and went to study at Lisbon Cathedral, close to his home.


In early adulthood he left for the city of Coimbra, which at that time was the capital of Portugal, to escape the temptations of Lisbon. In the Monastery of Santa Cruz he continued his biblical and classical studies, which were recognised in the 20th century when the title ‘Doctor of the Church’ was conferred on him by Pope Pius XII. It was in Coimbra that he first encountered the mendicant Order of Saint Francis. In 1220, the monastery received the remains of five Franciscan martyrs from Morocco, ransomed by King Afonso II. The martyrs had preached the Christian faith in the Arab kingdom of Morocco, which led to their beheading. Fernando decided he wanted to profess in the Order of Saint Francis, changing his name to Anthony and surrendering all material possessions. He left for Morocco that same year and tried to continue the mission of the martyrs. He would remain a year in North Africa, until he fell ill and decided to return to Portugal. During the trip, the ship was diverted by a storm and reached land in Sicily.


After travelling to Italy, Anthony met Saint Francis, became a teacher at the University of Bologna, and developed a reputation for his fierce intelligence and skilful oratory. He died in Padua in 1231 and is buried there in the basilica that bears his name. The following year, he was canonised and became known as the patron saint of marriages, and later patron saint of Lisbon. Today, ceremonies known as Saint Anthony weddings are celebrated, organised by the City Hall to celebrate his memory by blessing an assembly of newlyweds.


In the place where Saint Anthony was born, a church bearing his name was built, right next to Lisbon’s Cathedral. It was commissioned in the 15th century by King Manuel I and executed in the so-called Manueline style. Although the 1755 earthquake devastated the building, vestiges of it remained, such as the crypt on the site of his birthplace and a portrait of the saint. In 1767, the church was rebuilt in the Baroque style under the supervision of Mateus Vicente de Oliveira. It’s richly decorated with works in marble, paintings by Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho, and 18th-century tiles.


In 1962, the Museu Antoniano was founded, dedicated to the saint’s life and place in history. Located next to the church and recently renovated, it’s now one of the five venues incorporated into the Museum of Lisbon. The collection is constantly growing, given the many acts of devotion to Saint Anthony that have taken place in the city since the 13th century.


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