Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

St Anthony’s lilies

The Franciscan saint Anthony of Padua (?1193-1231) is usually depicted holding the Christ child and a madonna lily (Lilium candidum).  It is said that his association with the lily did not start until about 450 years after his death:

‘On the Saint’s feast [13 June] in 1680, a cut lily had been placed in one of the hands of his statue in the church of Mentosca d’Agesco in Austria.  For a whole year the flower retained its freshness and fragrance.  The following year the stalk bore two more lilies and the church was filled with their fragrance.                                                                                       Another unusual event took place on the island of Corsica at the time of the French Revolution.  The Franciscans had been forced to leave the island, but people continued to honor St Anthony and invoke his aid …  On his feast day  the people placed a shrine of the Saint and bouquets of lilies in the deserted church.  Many months later, lilies placed before Anthony’s statue were found still fresh and white.                                                              Permission to bless lilies in honor of St Anthony was given by Pope Leo XIII [pope 1878-1903].  Many favors have been claimed through Anthony’s intercession, after applying the blessed flower petals to the sick.  Like blessed palms, these lilies remain sacramentals even after they fade or are dried.           What is known as St Anthony’s Oil is another form of the devotion of St Anthony’s Lilies.  The oil is obtained by pressing the blessed lilies’ [1].

However,  J.B. Smith draws to our attention to an etching of  Anthony, made by Jacques Callot, and published in Paris in 1636.  In this the Saint appears to be carrying a lily; thus it seems that his association with lilies was known at this time.

1.  Anon., St Anthony of Padua: Our Franciscan Friend, New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1991: 37.

Images: main, front cover of  The Nine Tuesdays, Alcester, Warwickshire, 1975; upper inset, chapel of St Anthony, abundantly decorated with artificial lilies, Basilica of Jesus of Medinaceli, Madrid, Spain, June 2018; lower inset, etching by Jacques Callot, 1636.

Updated 20 June 2018.

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