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St. Anthony of Padua Relics on Display at Holy Family Church in Artesia April 15

By Brian Hews

After a successful visit to the New York metropolitan area and New Jersey this past February, two important relics of St. Anthony of Padua are returning to the United States for an eight-day tour of Southern California and will be on display at Artesia’s Holy Family Church April 15. On display will be the bust of St. Anthony with a glass case holding two layers of St. Anthony’s cheek, the other relic, a floating rib, will be on display but will not be allowed to be touched.

“This is an exciting event,” said Father Raymond, the Pastor of Holy Family, “Saint Anthony and his relics are very well-known in the community and we thank the Franciscan Friars of the Anthonian Association for bringing the relics here.”

The event, organized by the Messenger of St. Anthony magazine directed by the Franciscan Friars of the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy, marks the 750th anniversary of the discovery of the Saint’s incorrupt tongue by St. Bonaventure.


St. Antony's bust holding glass encasement. Inside the glass are two layers of St. Anthony's cheek.

St. Antony’s bust holding glass encasement. Inside the glass are two layers of St. Anthony’s cheek.


On the days leading up to the15th of February, the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy buzzes with preparation for the ‘Feast of St. Anthony’s Tongue’. This expression may sound a bit weird, but it recalls a truly extraordinary event which took place in 1263 – thirty-two years after the Wonder-Worker’s death.

Anthony’s remains were transferred from the Church of Sancta Maria Mater Domini, where he had originally been interred, to the adjacent and newly constructed Basilica. Present at this ceremony was St. Bonaventure in his capacity as the Minister General of the Friars Minor. St. Anthony’s coffin was opened, and it was found to contain only bones and ashes with one exception: the Saint’s vocal apparatus was found to be intact, and in particular his tongue was still red and soft.

At the sight of this miracle, St. Bonaventure exclaimed in awe “Oh blessed tongue, that ever praised the Lord, and led others to praise Him! Now it is clear how great are your merits before God!” Over the centuries, this precious relic has suffered some of the ravages of time, but it is still on display in the Chapel of Relics in the Basilica.

Exactly 750 years have elapsed since that first recognition, and naturally the friars of St Anthony’s Basilica in Padua are preparing to mark this important anniversary with a spate of celebrations and events. Moreover, a number of important relics will be taken to various places around the world so that more of the Saint’s devotees, most of whom are unable to go to Padua, may be given the chance to feel closer to their beloved Saint.

But why did God not allow the tongue of St. Anthony to undergo corruption?

As a preacher and writer, Anthony was continuously praising the Lord with his tongue or with his pen. Assidua, the first biography of St. Anthony written by an unknown Franciscan friar soon after his death, refers to the Saint’s tongue as “the writing reed of the Holy Spirit,” because it was with his tongue that he converted so many people through the operation of the Holy Spirit: “His powerful words and salutary doctrine so rooted themselves in the hearts of his listeners that large crowds of believers adhered faithfully to the Lord.”

The tongue is the physical instrument which transforms thoughts into spoken words, and the spoken word plays an essential role in the history of salvation. The spoken word of God brings about creation; the words of Jesus (the manifestation of the Father) bring about salvation; these words are the ‘Good News’, which is to be announced from the rooftops for all to hear.

Anthony’s tongue therefore represents the Saint’s untiring and continuous efforts to know the Word of God, to measure his life against it, and to make it known to others through his preaching and teaching.

Our Saint was profoundly convinced that acceptance of the message of the Gospel could change the world. For him, this message led to conversion, a radical change of heart, so that the fruits of truth, justice, freedom, solidarity, and peace could mature in a society that was far from just and peaceful.

The good seed sown enthusiastically by our Saint sometimes fell on the hard ground of selfishness, greed and lust for power, and Anthony also experienced many bitter disappointments. He was well aware, however, that the path towards the Kingdom of God was long and arduous, and that all his labours to bring as many sheep as possible back into the fold of Christ were never really in vain.

In dying St. Anthony handed over the task of continuing his work to his fellow Franciscan brothers. They have grown in number and, in time, they have found many other ways of spreading the Word of God.

At the Basilica in Padua, for instance, the friars try to spread the importance and beauty of Jesus’ message of love through the printed word. In the firm belief that this message is capable of transforming human hearts, they have been producing for the past 118 years the monthly magazine called Messenger of St. Anthony which brings news, information and insight from a uniquely Catholic perspective to devotees around the world. In a bewildering and changing society where humankind is in danger of losing its true self, the Messenger of St. Anthony can therefore become a sure guide to weather the storm.

The 750th anniversary of the discovery of St. Anthony’s tongue is a great occasion to reflect upon a person, a Saint, whose life is still a source of inspiration today, and to meditate upon a message that, more than ever, must take on a leading role in our lives and society.