Lisbon Travelogue Pt 2: Feast of St Anthony
I was making idle chit chat with my airbnb host on the journey from Cascais to Lisbon and happened to mention I was on the look out for some grilled sardines having surprisingly failed to come across many on the menus of Cascais. Much to the amusement of my host she was delighted to announce that I was going to Lisbon at the correct time as unbeknown to me, the weekend we were staying in Lisbon was the annual Feast of St Anthony or the sardine festival as it is more commonly known.
The Feast of St Anthony celebrates Anthony of Padua, a 13th Century Saint, whom by all accounts having had no luck preaching his sermons to the locals in Rimini, Italy and turned instead to the shoreline to confide in the fish. Anthony was greeted by row upon row of fish who raised their head above the water. The town folk flocked to see this miracle and hence the tradition of eating sardines to honour St Anthony was born. Every June, the streets are decorated, the grills are brought out onto the kerbside and the air of Lisbon is filled with the aroma of grilled sardines and charcoal.
Along with the sardines, there are a number of other traditions celebrated every year for St Anthony. Anthony is a renowned matchmaker and the women of Lisbon forego a number of rituals to encourage the saintly matchmaker to provide some spiritual assistance in these matters. Mouthfuls of water, names on paper rolled up and soaked in bowl of water and burying a statue of St Anthony head down for a week are regularly practiced. Not to be left out, the men present their future love of their lives with basil plants containing a love poem.
Following this theme, mass marriages known as St Anthony’s Weddings are held at the church of his name. What started as weddings organised for couples who cannot afford a wedding themselves were rejuvenated in the late 1990s. Couples now apply to be one of the 16 couples married on the day in the cathedral behind St Anthony's church. The event is televised with family arriving Lisbon style on the tram with the 16 couples following in a parade of vintage cars.
To sample the sardines, we stayed local in the Bairro Alto. The tight warren of narrow streets was bustling with people and grills and it was the case of choosing whichever bar/restaurant you liked the look of the best. We couldn't resisted this flame haired cook, screaming 'Sardinhas!' at the top of her voice while flailing a weaved fan with resulting sparks flying everywhere from the grill.