St Anthony is one of the most popular saints among Goa’s Catholics. In Goa, the feast of St Anthony is celebrated in all the churches on June 13, and is especially grand in Siolim (where he is the patron saint of the main church), at the chapel of St Anthony in Goa Velha, and in Deussua in Chinchinim. On the feast day, many families also sing a ladainha, which is an annual practice.
Many miracles are attributed to St Anthony, including finding a spouse. It is said that if anyone is seeking a life partner, and prays the trezena (meaning 13 day novena) of St Anthony, they are sure to find a partner even before the end of the trezena!
In Goa, if the monsoons are delayed, people in the villages hold a procession, carrying the statue of the saint, as they pray for rain. People also seek his help to find lost articles, and turn to the popular saint in times of distress.
THE SIOLIM CHURCH CONNECTION
St Anthony is the patron saint of the main church of Siolim, in Bardez, and his statue is seen holding a serpent, tied to a rope, in his right hand. This is the only church in the world, wherein the saint is seen with a snake. And, there is an interesting story to it.
In 1600, the Franciscans wanted to build a centrally located church for the Christians of Siolim, but fell short of funds. At the same time, two Portuguese merchants travelling to India, were caught in a severe storm.
They had a statue of St Anthony with them and vowed to build a church in his honour at the closest point wherever they touched land, if they survived the storm. It turned out that they eventually reached safety, and entered the river Chapora’s tributary, near Siolim. Co-incidentally, they met the Franciscans, and in fulfilment of their vows, contributed towards the construction of the church in honour of St Anthony.
Soon after construction began, a huge cobra began to harass the Franciscan priests and labourers during the construction of the church. It was also often seen in his house. All of them were terrified because all efforts to kill it proved in vain. Finally, they decided that the only option before them was to abandon the work and go away. But, before that, they decided to turn to St Anthony to solve the menacing problem.
And so, with the capela mor (chancel) of the church only partially constructed, the statue of the saint was quickly placed in a big niche in the wall. The very next day, early in the morning, they saw the cobra hanging in the snare of the cord, in the saint's hand, leaving them all amazed! Thus, their problem being solved, the construction was resumed and the church was eventually completed. To commemorate this miracle, a picture of St Anthony (holding a serpent tied with a cord in his right hand) was painted.
The statue of St Anthony in the church is in a niche on the frontispiece of the church, and shows a wooden serpent, tied with a cord, in the saint's right hand. The statue on the main altar has a serpent of silver tied with a silver chain. The image of St Anthony, holding a serpent, is engraved on the big bell, cast in Germany.