Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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St. Anthony (Five Tales)


ST. ANTHONY'S father was accused of murder, and as facts seemed against him, he was condemned to be executed.

               St. Anthony was preaching in the pulpit as his father was taken to the scaffold. 'Allow me to stop for a minute to take breath,' he said, and he made a minute's pause in the midst of his discourse, and then went on again.

               But in that minute's pause, though no one in church had lost sight of him, he had gone on to the scaffold.

               'What are you doing to that man?' he asked.

               'He has committed a murder, and is going to be executed.'

               'He has murdered no one. Bring hither the dead man.'

               No one knew who it was that spoke, but they felt impelled to obey him nevertheless.

               When the dead man's body was brought, St. Anthony said to him:--

               'Is this the man who killed you? say!'

               The dead man opened his eyes and looked at the accused.

               'Oh, no; that's not the man at all!' he said.

               'And you, where are you?' continued St. Anthony.

               'I should be in Paradise, but that there is a ground of excommunication on me, therefore am I in Purgatory,' answered the dead man. Then St. Anthony put his ear down, and bid him tell him the matter of the excommunication; and, when he had confessed it, he released him from the bond, and he went straight to Paradise. The father of St. Anthony, too, was pronounced innocent, and set free.

               And all the while no one had missed St. Anthony from the pulpit!



I TOO know a story about St. Anthony.

               St. Anthony was a fair youth, as you will always see in his portraits. As he went about preaching there was a young woman who began to admire him very much, and her name was Sora Castitre. Whenever she could find out in which direction he was going she would put herself in his way and try to speak to him. St. Anthony at first kept his eyes fixed on the ground, and took no notice of her; then he tried to make her desist by rebuking her, but she ceased not to follow him.

               Then he thought to himself, with all a saint's compunction, 'It is not she who is to blame, and who is worthy of rebuke, but I, who have been the occasion of sin to her. God grant that sin be not imputed to her through loving me.'

               The next time she met him, it was in a deserted part of the Campagna.

               'Brother Antonio, come along with me down this path. No one will see us there,' said Sora Castitre.

               Much to her surprise, instead of pursuing the severe tone he had always adopted towards her, St. Anthony greeted her and smiled with a smile which filled her with a joy different from anything she had known before. What was more, he seemed to follow her, and she led on.

               But as she went the way seemed quite changed. She knew well the retired path by which she had meant to lead him, but now everything around looked different; not one landmark was the same. Yet 'how could it be different?' she said within herself; and she led on.

               What was her astonishment, when, instead of finding it terminate in a rocky gorge as she had found before, there rose before her presently an austere building surrounded with walls and gates!

               St. Anthony stepped forward as they reached the gate. A nun opened to them, and St. Anthony asked for the mother abbess. 'I have brought you a maiden,' he said, 'whom I recommend to your affectionate and tender care.' The mother abbess promised to make her her special charge, and St. Anthony went his way, first calling the maiden aside and charging her with this one petition he would have her make:

               'I have sinned; have mercy on me.'

               Then St. Anthony went back to his convent and called all the brethren together, and asked them all to pray very earnestly all through the night, and in the morning tell him what manifestation they had had.

               The brethren promised to comply; and in the morning they all told him they had seen a little spark of light shining in the darkness.

               'It suffices not, my brethren!' said St. Anthony; 'continue your charity and pray on instantly this night also.'

               The brethren promised compliance; and in the morning they all told him they had seen a pale streak of light stealing away towards heaven.

               'It suffices not, my brethren!' said St. Anthony; 'of your charity pray on yet again this night also.'

               The brethren promised compliance; and in the morning they told him they had all seen a blaze of light, and in the midst of it a bed on which lay a most beautiful maiden, white [2] as a lily, carried up to heaven, borne by four shining angels.

               'It is well, my brethren!' replied St. Anthony; 'your prayers have rendered a soul to the celestial quires.'

               Afterwards he went to the convent where he had left Sora Castitre, and learnt from the mother abbess that, spending three penitential days saying only, 'I have sinned; have mercy on me,' she had rendered up her soul to God in simplicity and fervour.


THE legend of St. Anthony preaching to the fishes is well known from paintings, and I do not reproduce it because it was told me with no variation from the usual form. But another legend, which early pictures have rendered equally familiar, I received with an anachronistic addition which is worth putting down.



ST. ANTHONY had been sent a long way off to preach; [4] by the way fatigue overtook him, and he found hospitality for a few days in a monastery by the way. Later in the evening came a Protestant [5] and asked hospitality, and he also was received, because you know there are many Protestants who are very good; and, besides that, if the man needed hospitality the monks would give it, whoever he might be.

               The monks were all in their cells by an early hour in the evening, but the Protestant walked up and down the corridors smoking.

               Suddenly through the cracks and the keyhole and all round the lintel of the door he saw a bright light issue where anon all was dark; it seemed as if the cell was on fire. 'One of the good monks has set fire to his bedclothes!' he said, and looked through the keyhole. What did he see? on the open book from which a father who was kneeling before it had been taking his meditations stood a beautiful Child whom it filled you with love to look at, and from Whom shone a light too bright to bear.

               Anxious to obtain a better view of the glorious sight the Protestant knocked at the door; St. Anthony, for it was he, called to him to come in; but instantly the vision vanished.

               'Who was that Child who was talking to you?' asked the Protestant.

               'The Divine Infant!' answered St. Anthony with the greatest simplicity.

               The next night the Protestant, curious to know if the Child would appear again, again walked up and down the corridor smoking, keeping his eye on the door of St. Anthony's cell; nor was it long before the same sight met his eye, but this time he was led to prolong his converse with the saint. The next night there was the same prodigy, and that night they sat up all night talking.

               When morning came he told the father abbot he wished to make his adjuration and join the order, and he finally took the habit in that monastery.


THEY say there was once a poor man who had paid what he owed for his ground. You know the way is, that when a man has gathered in his harvest and turned a little money then he pays off what he owes. This man paid for his ground as soon as he had made something by his harvest, but the seller did not give him any receipt. Soon after the owner died, and his son came to ask for the money over again. 'But I paid your father,' said the poor man. 'Then show your receipt,' said the son. 'But he didn't give me one,' answered the poor man. 'Then you must pay me,' insisted the new proprietor.

               'What shall I do! what shall I do!' exclaimed the poor man in despair. 'St. Anthony, help me!' He had hardly said the words when he saw a friar [6] coming towards him.

               'What's the matter, good man?' said the friar, 'that you are so distressed: tell me.' And the poor man told him all the story of his distress.

               'Shall I tell you how to get the receipt?' asked the friar.

               'Indeed, indeed!' [7] exclaimed the poor man, 'that would be the making of me; but it's more than you can do--the man is dead!'

               'Never mind that. You do what I tell you,' said the monk. 'Go straight along that path;' and the man saw that where he pointed was a path that had never been there before. 'Follow that path,' said the monk, 'and you will come to a casino with great iron gates which shut and open of themselves continually. You must watch the moment when they are open and go boldly in. Inside you will see a big room and a man sitting at a table writing ceaselessly and casting accounts. That is your landlord; ask him for the receipt and he won't dare withhold it now. But mind one thing. Don't touch a single article in the room, whatever you do.'

               The poor man went along the path, and found all as the monk had told him.

               'How did you get here?' exclaimed the landlord, as soon as he recognised him; and the poor man told him how he had been sent and why he was come. The landlord sat at his desk writing with the greatest expedition, as if some one was whipping him on, and knitting his brows over his sums as if they were more than his brain could calculate; nevertheless, he took a piece of paper and wrote the receipt, and moreover he wrote two or three lines more on another piece of paper, which he bade him give to his son.

               The poor man promised to deliver it, and turned to go; but as he went could not forbear putting his hand over the polished surface of a table he had to pass, unmindful of the charge the monk had given him not to touch anything. His hand was no sooner in contact with the table than the whole skin was burnt off, and he understood that he was in Hell. With all expedition he watched the turn of the door opening, and hastened out.

               'What have you got about your hand?' asked St. Anthony when the man came back, for the friar was none other than St. Anthony.

               'I touched one of the tables in that house,' he answered, 'forgetting what you told me, and burnt my hand so badly I had to dip this cloth in a river as I came by and tie it up. But I have the receipt, thanks to you.' So St. Anthony touched his hand and healed it, and he saw him no more.

               Then the man took the letter to the old lord's son. 'Why, this is my father's writing!' he exclaimed; 'and my father is dead. How did you come by it?' And he told him. And the letter said: 'Behold, I am in Hell! But you, mend your ways; give money to the poor; compensate this man for the trouble he has had; and be just to all, lest you also come hither.'

               Then the old landlord's son gave the man a large sum of money to compensate him for his anxieties, and sent him away consoled.



[1] 'Sora' in this place does not mean 'sister'; it is an expression in Roman vernacular for which we have no equivalent, and is applied to respectable persons of the lower class who do not aspire to be called 'Signora,' 'Mrs.,' or 'Miss,' as with us. 'Sor' or 'Ser' is the masculine equivalent; we had it in use at p. 194.

[2] The word used was 'candida,' and not 'bianca,' as expressive of purest white.

[3] 'Sant' Antonio ed il Santo Bambino.'

[4] I believe St. Anthony was never in Rome; but his genial winning character made him so popular that the people speak of him as one of themselves.

[5] St. Anthony's date is 1195-1231; so the idea of making his observer a Protestant, and a smoker to boot, is very quaint, and is an instance of how chronological order gets confused by tradition.

[6] 'Fraticello'; 'good little friar.' An affectionate way of speaking of Franciscans often used.

[7] 'Magàri!' a very strong form of 'indeed.'

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: St. Anthony (Five Tales)
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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