Saints and Sinners

San Antonio fullFor 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.

San Antonio in patio

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:

market final

Always at the entrance to the church, where some days two San Antonios greet visitors to mass:

two antonios in church

…and on the streets, where a man collects contributions in the basket:

san antonio in the streets

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.

San Antonio patio


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23 thoughts on “Saints and Sinners

  1. There is a song you hear in Colombia frequently that starts as follows: ” Tengo a San Antinio puesto de cabeza, no me busca novio, ya no me interesa”, …….and so on…

  2. Re: Ramiro’s comment. Same in Argentina !
    How saints became patrons is no mystery. The Spaniards brought the Catholic religion to the new world, and they ‘decided’ who will be the patron of a town, province, etc. The patron of my hometown of Mendoza, in western Argentina, is Santiago Apostol and July 25th is a holiday in the province. It is also the patron of the province of Santiago del Estero, which bears his name!

  3. Hi saint lovers – where ever and whom ever you are! I’m just back from a week of work/conference in Berlin – and two weeks prior to that was in Buenos Aires for conference of schools in S. America. The two cities – Berlin/BA – were ones I’d never been to, and had always wanted to visit. Distinct, as different as night and day, yet some things are the same where ever you go!
    It’s not every day that a Jew gets to be in the home city of the priest who becomes the new POPE..yes – BA was in quite a tizzy as you can imagine. The one picture I sent home though, as irreverant as it seems, was a tasty plate of fries along side of a picture of the new guy…papas y papa…what do they have in common? Another picture I took was from the national gallery in BA of Che and then the photo of the Pope – two dudes from Argentina…what do they have in common? I’ll leave you to ponder that deep question. BA is a mess – what I mean by that is the infrastructure is broken, the strees are torn up everywhere, the traffic is chaotic, and so on…still, it is BA in all its glory with its history of strife, social conflict, home to fleeing Jews, and still even now – home to former Nazis and anti-semetics.
    Berlin – talk about a city of contrasts! Previously the european stronghold of everything Jewish – now, a city overflowing with apolgies to Jews – I’ve never seen more intentional efforts to beg for forgiveness. The museums, the signage, and so on. I admit, I was fearful (emotionally), to go there – my father, a Polish immigrant, would never allow anything German in our home, yet this new generation is very international, focused on success, and to rebuild a country that attracts everything and everyone. Order still reins supreme – god fobid you jaywalk (yes, I did – and got some nasty stares!)…but, personal family fears aside, it was marvelous!
    Hope all is well…and sending my love!

  4. Now he’s really stylin’, with his hat at such a jaunty angle. I’m sure you’ll find his little poncho someday. And he could definitely hold a flower or two now and then. Looks right at home in your patio, and now with his protection you shouldn’t have any more chimney fires. And he’s a busy guy with all those needy folk to take care of. No wonder that at the one site he has a little junior version to help him out.

  5. Ms. Blankenship has formalized by writing her books getting to know those from other cultures as a way of reaching understanding about humanity and oneself. Love that Indian hat on the Catholic saint. Love that word Pachamama. Love chronicling with Jews, Canari, writers, artists, filmmakers and other secret world-changers. Thanks, Barbara

  6. Judy, whatever you do, don’t turn Antonio upside down!

    Greetings from Boulder, where we have had 14″ of snow in the last 36 hours.

  7. Very interesting about San Antonio-here in Philadelphia we bury Saint Joseph upside down when we want to sell our house-I guess that being the patron saint of carpenters somehow evolved to being the patron saint of real estate. However, I had never heard of any other saint getting the upside-down treatment!

  8. Lovely post. I remember all the San Antonios in Spain. And I really like the addition of the Canar white doll hat!

  9. Judy, this is the best. I love Santos and this is a beautiful story and an amazing Santo. He does it all.
    My next trip is a walking trip in Scotland with friends in May. I am looking forward to it. Summer will be here soon and I also look forward to seeing you and Michael. Much love, Patty

  10. Here are the lyrics, from

    Divino, glorioso Antonio, suplícale a Dios inmenso
    que con su gracia divina, alumbre mi entendimiento,
    para que mi lengua refiera el milagro
    que en el huerto obraste de edad de ocho años.
    Su padre era un caballero, cristiano, honrado y prudente
    que mantenía su casa con el sudor de su frente
    y tenía un huerto donde recogía
    cosechas del fruto que el tiempo traía.
    Y una mañana un domingo, como siempre acostumbraba
    se marchó su padre a misa diciéndole estas palabras:
    – Antonio querido, ven aquí hijo amado
    escucha que tengo que darte un recado.
    Mientras tanto yo esté en misa, gran cuidado has de tener
    mira que los pajarcitos, todo lo echan a perder.
    Entran en el huerto, pican el sembrado;
    por eso te pido que tengas cuidado.
    El padre se fue a la iglesia a oir misa con devoción
    Antonio quedó cuidando y a los pájaros llamó:
    – Venid, pajarcitos, dejad el sembrado
    que mi padre ha dicho que tenga cuidado.
    Por aquella cercanía, ningún pájaro quedó
    porque todos acudieron donde Antonio los llamó.
    Lleno de alegría San Antonio estaba,
    y los pajarcitos alegres cantaban.
    Al ver venir a su padre, luego los mandó callar.
    Llegó su padre a la puerta y le empezó a preguntar:
    – Dime tú, hijo amado; dime tú Antoñito;
    ¿tuviste cuidado con los pajarcitos?
    El hijo le contestó: – Padre, no esté preocupado
    que para que no hagan daño, todos los tengo encerrados,
    El padre que vio milagro tan grande
    al señor obispo trató de avisarle.
    Acudió el señor obispo con grande acompañamiento;
    quedaron todos confusos al ver tan grande portento.
    Abrieron ventanas, puertas a la par
    por ver si las aves querían marchar.
    Antonio les dijo a todos: – Señores, nadie se alarme;
    los pajarcitos no salen mientras yo no se lo mande.
    Se puso a la puerta y les dijo así:
    – Volad pajarcitos, ya podéis salir.
    Salgan cigüeñas con orden, águilas, grullas y garzas
    gavilanes y mochuelos, verderones y avutardas;
    salgan las urracas, tórtolas, perdices,
    palomas, gorriones y las codornices.
    Cuando acaban de salir, todos juntitos se ponen
    aguardando a San Antonio, para ver lo que dispone,
    y Antonio les dice, – No entréis en sembrado
    iros por los montes y los ricos prados.
    Al tiempo de alzar el vuelo, cantan con dulce
    despidiéndose de Antonio y toda la compañía.
    El señor obispo, al ver tal milagro
    por todas las partes, mandó publicarlo.
    Arbol de grandiosidades, fuente de la caridad
    depósito de bondades, padre de inmensa piedad,
    Antonio divino, por tu intercesión
    merezcamos todos la eterna mansión.

  11. I love hearing about your adventures. I am looking forward to hearing more in person when you get home. Your present home looks amazing. I am currently visiting my daughter in Ventura. We just came back from the market in Ojai and I had my first real strawberry of the year. I could live down here in the winter months.
    We have been spending our time eating and gardening. California isn’t so bad when it is raining in Salem. Jon is home caring for the animals and painting every day. He is not a sun lover like myself.

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