Today is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. Ever since I was very young, St. Anthony has been a particular patron of mine, likely because I am that unfortunate breed of person who can lose, in the bare space of a minute, just about anything, from my keys to myself. There is seldom a day goes by that I do not find myself praying desperately to the good saint of lost objects, for help in finding something else that I set down for just a minute... and which promptly disappeared off the face of the earth. He seldom fails me. Every now and again, he feels obliged to teach me detachment, and makes me look for a long time before he produces the missing item for me. Once or twice, he has even flatly refused to get it back, regardless of any prayers or bribes I might offer him. Generally, though, if I need his help, St. Anthony is very prompt to lend his aid, and even to the point of performing very minor miracles to get something back to me.
Of course, everyone knows that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects. I was rather surprised, recently, when I was looking for a nice holy card of himself, that he has a very wide and diverse patronage. He seem to be an ideal saint for almost any situation. He is the patron against against shipwrecks, starvation, of American Indians, boatmen, elderly people, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mail, mariners, sailors, swineherds, travel hostesses, travelers, watermen, and amputees. (For those who are interested, St. Anthony is one of the primary saints on the Battle Saint bracelets, because of his patronage of sailors and amputees.) In Italy, Portugal, France and Spain, St. Anthony is particularly revered as the patron saint of fishermen. It is a tradition amongst some fishing communities, to have a small statue or a picture of St. Anthony attached to the mast of their fishing boats. Since he is the patron saint of lost objects, he is also invoked for those who are missing, for those who are in a state of mortal sin, and for reconciliation with a loved one.
Furthermore, he is traditionally prayed to for help in finding a husband or a wife. There is a funny story in the book, My Heart Lies South, in which a young lady has been praying to St. Anthony for a husband. She prays, and prays, to no avail, it seems, so she loses her temper, and throws her statue out the window. There just happened to be a young man walking by at that precise moment. The statue hit him on the head, rendering him unconscious. The girl's family took him into the house, and a short time later the two were married. St. Anthony obviously has a rather peculiar sense of humour.
So, how did a saint, renowned for his preaching and his miracles, become the patron saint of lost items? Well, St. Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him, because he had annotated it heavily with notes and comments, which he used when teaching novices. One of the novices decided that he did not have a vocation after all, and he ran off, taking St. Anthony's Psalter along with him. Why, precisely, he should steal a book of any sort when he was escaping is never really explained. Perhaps he had an understandable weakness for books. Perhaps the Psalter was a rather fine one, and the novice thought he could sell it - though that seems highly unlikely. The long and short if it is that steal it he did, and St. Anthony was most upset by its loss. He therefore prayed that it be returned to him. The thief had a change of heart, and not only brought the book back, but returned to the Order.