For my birthday a couple of months ago, Michael bought this beautiful wood and plaster statue of San Antonio. We’d been looking for just the right santo for the niche in our patio since we moved into the house in 2007. And it had to be a San Antonio because he is the patron saint of Canar. But the santos we casually found were either too big for the space, too expensive, too new, or we didn’t like the expression on San Antonio’s face. He’s a gentle Franciscan monk, always with a child in his arms. This one we came across in a junk/antique shop across from our architect’s office in Cuenca. And he seemed just right: not too new, not too old (meaning, not too expensive), and I loved the sweet expression on his face. Michael took measurements at the shop, and in the patio, and came home one day with my birthday present wrapped in newspaper. To secure the santo in the niche, he made a special shelf, and once installed in the patio, San Antonio looked right at home. Or almost. “The only thing missing is a Canari hat,” Michael said.
How a 12thth century priest, who was born in Portugal and died in Padua, Italy in 1231, came to be the patron saint of Cañar is a mystery. No doubt the Spanish conquistadores brought him with them. And perhaps because he is a saint of American Indians, animals, barrenness, elderly people, fishermen, harvest, horses, oppressed people, poor people, pregnant women, seekers of lost articles, shipwrecks, starvation, swineherds, and travellers, they felt San Antonio would cover all possibilities in the hazardous New World.
When recent visitors from Colombia saw our santo in the patio, they told us that women having difficulty conceiving would turn their San Antonio upside down until once safely pregnant, turn him upright again for the duration of the pregnancy.
In any case, San Antonio is ubiquitous here in Canar, usually dressed to the nines with finely-made, sartorial contributions of local fans. Here is he In the market, holding a lily, hand-crocheted bag, and little horsehair whips:
Always at the entrance to the church, where some days two San Antonios greet visitors to mass:
…and on the streets, where a man collects contributions in the basket:
Michael and I are often asked if we are Catholics. We usually answer something like: “No, but we are great respecters of religions.” Long pause. Next question: Then you are Protestants? “No, but we know many Protestants and respect them too.” Long pause. Oh, but then do you believe in God? “Well, we believe in goodness and kindness and humanness and Pachamama (Mother Nature).” Another long pause, and the conversation can go anywhere from there.
Back at home, Michael worried that our San Antonio was incomplete without his Canari sombrero. We had no idea where to go for a miniature hat until one day I happened by the store of a woman who makes Canari clothing, and saw in the window little dolls – weaving and spinning dolls, with tiny round white hats. Michael went up the next day and negotiated for a doll, came home and removed her stitched-on hat, (leaving her hair a real mess) and placed in on our San Antonio. Now all our santo needs is a poncho and scarf to protect him on cold days, but in the meantime he looks very content in our patio.