The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Feast of St. John the Baptist, also known as the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24 every year. Unlike other Saints, the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is one among the few to be celebrated as part of the liturgy. St. John the Baptist is known as the Patron Saint of tailors, shepherds and masons.

At the time of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel informed Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. On the basis of this account, the Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist by a feast of his nativity on June 24, assigned exactly six months before the nativity of Christ.

The story of St. John the Baptist begins when the Archangel Gabriel appears to an aged Zacharias in the Temple and tells to him that his wife Elizabeth though advanced in age would bear him a son. Since he did not believe what the Angel had said, he was struck with dumbness until the child’s birth.

St. John the Baptist has been described as one living in the wilderness, wearing clothes made of camel’s skin with a leather belt tied around the waist and eating locusts and wild honey. In his public ministry, he was known for attracting large crowds and for proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins. He would also baptize people. St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan when he came to him. Later on, he was imprisoned and then beheaded by the orders of King Herod.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, also known as St. John’s Day, is one of the oldest feasts celebrated by Christians. It is celebrated as a public holiday in some countries with customs varying from location to location. Typical customs may include the gathering of the perennial herb St. John’s Wort, the collection of flowers for floral wreaths. In many places fires are lit on the eve of the nativity of St. John the Baptist, communal bonfires as well as small fires in the home that burn past midnight.

In Goa, the Feast of St. John the Baptist is traditionally celebrated every year on June 24. On the day of the feast, youngsters go from door to door collecting fruits, liquor and gifts. They then offer prayers and jump into the wells and ponds. The youngsters jumping in the well has an interesting account from the Holy Bible associated with it. When Elizabeth was pregnant with John she was visited by Mary, and it is written that when Mary greeted Elizabeth the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt with joy. Newly married couples are also blessed on this occasion.

Besides solo images, St. John the Baptist’s portrait is also found in images of St Catherine of Alexandria and the Madonna and Child images. Whenever, Christ is also in the image, St. John is shown pointing to Him. Portraits show St. John the Baptist clad in Camel’s skin as described in the Scriptures. An important attribute that distinguishes St. John the Baptist is the Lamb (referring to his words about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God”), often lying or standing on a book. Another common attribute is a Cross, sometimes with a banner attached to it. The story of his death is also a popular subject in art.

This illustration of Mary visiting Elizabeth, is taken from one of the two volumes of the Bible from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. Both the volumes of the Bible are leather bound with brass clasps while the text is printed on paper. They belong to the 18th century and were donated by Canon Caetano da Cruz Fernandes from Benaulim, Goa. The text in both the Volumes is in Latin while the illustrations of Biblical scenes are described in six different languages (Greek, English, German, Latin, French and Dutch).

St. Anthony

“The sea obeys and fetters break
And lifeless limbs thou dost restore
While treasures lost are found again
When young or old thine aid implore.”

- Julian of Spires, O.F.M.

The 13th of June is celebrated every year the world over as the feast of the Catholic Church’s most beloved and popular Saint, St. Anthony of Padua. He was one among the great preachers and theologians of his day. There are many legends associated with  St. Anthony. He is known as the Patron Saint of lost and stolen articles.

St. Anthony, was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195. At a very young age he joined the Augustinian Order in Lisbon. When he was in Coimbra (Portugal), he was inspired to join the Franciscan Order by the example of a group of five Franciscan Friars who were martyred in Morocco. After joining the Franciscans he went to Morocco to preach. However, he took ill in Morocco. When he was returning to Portugal, the ship that he was travelling in was caught in a storm and he landed in Italy. Since then, he mostly lived his life in Italy and spent his time praying, reading the Scriptures, preaching and doing menial tasks. He died in Padua, Italy on 13th June 1231 after receiving his last sacraments.

St. Anthony was a great preacher. A lot of people were moved by his preaching and also by his way of life. However, despite his efforts not everyone listened. Legend has it that one day as no one was listening to him preach, he went to the river and started preaching to the fish. This got everyone’s attention and a lot of people gathered around him to witness the event. This episode from the life of St. Anthony has also been depicted in art.

St. Anthony has been pictured by artists and sculptors in different ways. The main attributes of St. Anthony are the lily, book (closed or open) and Infant Jesus. As far as the depiction of St. Anthony is concerned, the earliest images show him standing with a closed book in his hand, with the Franciscan  tonsure and wearing the brown Franciscan habit with a hood and the long cord belt with its three knots symbolizing chastity, poverty and obedience to the rule hanging down at the front or side. From the 16th century onwards, Infant Jesus became a part of the iconography of St. Anthony. Initially, the Infant Jesus was placed upon the book that St. Anthony held in his hand and in later images He was shown resting on the arm of St. Anthony. St. Anthony has also been painted preaching to fish, holding a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in front of a mule or preaching in the public square.

The depiction of St. Anthony carrying the Infant Jesus is based on the account of Count Tiso, an Italian Nobleman, who had converted after hearing the preaching of St. Anthony. In 1231, when St. Anthony’s health was deteriorating, Count Tiso and the Friars invited him to reside at the hermitage in Camposampiero. While at the hermitage, the Friars noticed St. Anthony admire a huge Walnut tree in the garden. When Count Tiso was told about this, he had a small tree house built in the Walnut tree for St. Anthony. One night as Count Tiso was passing by the room of St. Anthony, he saw a bright light coming from the room. At first he thought that it was a fire and rushed into the room. But when he entered the room, he saw St. Anthony in ecstasy embracing Baby Jesus. As per the request of the Saint, Count Tiso did not tell anyone about this incident until after the death of St. Anthony.

‘St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and needs to be found.’ This is a popular prayer said to St. Anthony seeking his intercession to find a lost object.