Most Italian villages have a patron saint who watches over and protects the inhabitants. The patron Saint of Fabrizia, a village high in the Calabrian mountains in the south of Italy, is Saint Anthony.
A statue of Saint Anthony is a feature in many Calabrian households and resides in a small shrine or grotto in the living room. He is a benevolent saint always carrying a small child and among other things is the patron Saint of sick children.
Early one morning, many years ago, in Fabrizia, a small child, Mimo was getting underfoot during the hustle and bustle of breakfast. Everybody had to be fed before a long day’s work in the fields. Antonia, Mimo’s mother, was busy making coffee and putting enough bread on the table for the large family. She took her eyes off little Mimo for a few minutes. Then he screamed, someone had knocked a scalding hot coffee pot on little Mimo’s head. Antonia grabbed him and put him under cold running water.
She was hysterical and began pleading with St Anthony not to let her son die. She even made an extra pledge that if he could survive without horrible scarring she vowed that she would lick the marble floor from the entrance of the church to the statue of St Anthony and back 13 times.
A woman of her word, Antonia engaged the help of her older son Marco. Even though the floor of the church is lovingly cleaned by the village women every day, Marco’s job was to wipe the marble floor directly in front of his mother’s tongue as she licked the floor all the way to the statue and back, thirteen times.
There may be some merit in this method of healing as Mimo not only survived but had no scarring. In return for the miracle, St Anthony was thanked by dedicating little Mimo to the great saint. Every 13th June ( St Anthony’s day and hence the significance of 13), little Mimo was dressed in brown priest’s robes with a cord tied around his waist. He had a little patch of hair shaved from the back of his head until he resembled a miniature Saint Anthony.
Elena, his wife always felt that it was hard to believe the little boy in the family photo, dressed as a miniature St Anthony and flanked by his female cousins dressed in the same garb all with their little hands clasped together in prayer was the same man she lived with for 25 years.
When Mimo feel ill and had to be hospitalised to have a serious operation. Antonia once again called on St Anthony to spare the life of her beloved Mimo. St Anthony again didn’t disappoint.
Not long after the operation, Mimo turned 50 and decided to have a celebration and ‘give thanks’ to St Anthony by adopting a ‘religious’ theme for the party where he dressed as St Anthony. Once again he donned the brown robes drawn together with a cord. This time he wore a wig rather than shave a bald patch at the back of his head.
Sadly, St Anthony’s powers were not infallible. Mimo eventually fell ill again and this time didn’t survive the operation.
It was all very unexpected as up till now family and friends thought that thought Mimo would live forever. A number of his good friends were overseas at the time of his funeral. Elena told them to continue travelling as it would have been Mimo’s wish. She decided to have a memorial service on their return
“When will you be back?’ she skyped.
“On the 11th of June”.
“Ok I’ll have a do on Saturday the 13th. Will that give you enough time”?
“Yeah , thanks Elena, that will be great.”
Elena, who had been brought up a protestant and had very little knowledge of the significance of saints, made arrangements and had the date printed on the funeral booklets. A friend said, on receiving the invitation,
“You do realise don’t you that 13th June is St Anthony’s Day!”
Maybe the Saint’s work was not over yet.