da "Il Santo"
Tradition takes the birth of the Confraternity to a few years after St. Anthony's death. This institution, which is still very vital today, has proved itself to be well-deserving in both art and charity.
On ApriI 8, five hundred years ago, the Confraternity of St. Anthony decided to build a new Chapter House, by raising a new floor on top of the building that already existed in the square outside St. Anthony's church, next to the Oratory of St. George. The decision was put to the vote and only one of the eighty-four people present was contrary. All the same the decision had to be approved of by the friars at St. Anthony's Church and Father Pietro Moscardo, the guardian of the convent, pleaded for it with the Provincial Minister, pointing out that the confraternity intended to raise their meeting house, so that the men could gather together in an upper room and the women in the lower one. In exchange the confraternity had no obligation but they promised that they would have done various favours to the monastery.
The approvaI arrived on the following 24 May, also because the new building would have helped to protect the intimacy of the monastery protecting it from the eyes of the secular, preventing them from spying on the friars through the windows of the dormitory that had just been built.
Then on 6 May 1505 the Confraternity asked for permission to build a chancery next to St. George's oratory and, after various quarrels, at a distance of some fifteen years, the building was completed. The quarrelling was constant and in 1683 the monastery was forced to eliminate the stalla con teza" (stable) that was leaning up against the School.
We like to remember this date because the Scoletta (school) of St. Anthony is one of the richest sites in art in Padua and also because this Institution is still very vital. It has shown itself to be generous in the fields of culture, art and solidarity. In fact, in 1480, it contributed in the founding of the Music Chapel in the Saint's Church and, in 1491, the Monte di Pieta (the pawnshop). In 1497 it paid for a column in the church of St. Daniel, it helped the Serenissima (the Republic of Venice) in its fight against the Turks, it contributed to the building of the Cathedral of Padua, it built the Civil Hospital and enlarged and enriched St. Anthony's sanctuary at Arcella as well as using nearly all of its income in works of charity.
It is very symptomatic that the Veneranda Arca has at this moment planned the restoration of the upper room, trusting this "face lifting" of the paintings to the capable hands of Gianluigi Colalucci, well known far having worked on the restoration of the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
Tradition takes the founding of the Confraternity to a few years after the death of St. Anthony, but the first document that testifies to its presence dates back to 1298. At the beginning the members met in the Chapter House of the monastery, and very likely we owe them thanks far the commission of the decorations by Giotto. They held their religious functions in the Black Madonna Chapel, which they had decorated with the beautiful statue by Rinaldino da Guascogna (1396).
The first Statutes that decreed the obligations for the brothers and sisters of the Confraternity are of 1334. They were led by a guardian, helped by four gastaldi, one for each of the four neighbourhoods of the city: Torreselle, Ponte Altinate, Duomo and Ponte Molino. Enrolment was forbidden to men of arms, soldiers, usurers, drunkards, blasphemers, adulterers, murders, gamblers and frauds, because the members had to lead spotless lives. On the first Sunday of every month the men attended Holy Mass at the Arca of the Saint and the women at the altar of St. Orsola, this was then followed by a meeting, at the end of which blessed loaves were distributed.
The main feast-day of the Confraternity was called Nogara and over the years the members developed two important forms of devotion: the practice of the tredicina (The Thirteen Days prayer) and of Tuesdays being dedicated to the Saint. They were also very devoted to Our Lady, who was especially venerated under the title of the Immaculate.
As the number of brothers and sisters grew, they began to desire to build their own seat and, already on 27 September 1398, the notary Giacomo da Polverara left an inheritance of 25 pounds to this purpose.
On 12 August 1422 the Confraternity bought a small house with a little courtyard looking onto the square in front of St. Anthony's church. Donations began to constantly flow in and in 1431 the oratory was nearly completed and furnished with liturgical books. Now it also has three altars, the main one was installed in 1798, and came from the demolished church of San Biagio together with the altarpiece by Padovanino, which shows the Madonna and Child with the saints Biagio and Jerome. The altar on the left is dedicated to St. Francis with a painting by Antonio Tentori, while the altar to the right is consecrated to St. Anthony who is shown in the altarpiece decorated with flowers and votive paintings. There is also a beautiful wooden statue of the Immaculate by Rinaldo Rinaldi, a pupil of Canova's as well as a lovely wooden Crucifix, carved by Giovanni Bonazza (1714).
One reaches this by a staircase designed by Giovanni Gloria in 1733 up to the loggia where statues of three popes (Pius VI, Pius VII and John Paul II) stand blessing the faithful.
The great meeting room is a treasure chest of art, because several painters worked here creating that famous series of paintings known as the "Anthonian epopea".
The lacunar ceiling is by Giovanni Cavalieri who worked here together with the painter Girolamo da Piacenza from 1506 to 1510. The wooden altar has a wonderful terracotta statue of the Madonna and Child by Andrea Briosco (1520), with a fresco in the back ground by Domenico Campagnola (1533) with the figures of the saints Anthony and Francis.
The fame of the room comes from the eighteen paintings dating back, all except one, to the beginning of the sixteenth century and are the work of the most well-known Veneto artists of that period; they show scenes in the life and miracles of St. Anthony.
The most famous of these paintings are the four that were painted by the young Tiziano Vecellio (Titian) in 27 days, beginning them in 1510 and completing them by the end of the year. They show "The guardian Nicola da Strà distributing blessed bread", "The Saint making a newborn babe testifies to its mother's innocence", "The jealous husband stabbing his wife" and "the Saint re-attaching a young man's foot". Other events during the life and preaching of the Saint were painted by Girolamo Tessari, Filippo da Verona, Bartolomeo Montagna, Gian Antonio Corona, Benedetto Montagna, Gian Martino Frangipani, Francesco Vecellio and Antonio Buttafoco (1775). These cannot be compared to Titian, even though they worked to the best of their capacity so as to give the hall an excellent biography of St. Anthony, indispensable in those times when only very few people were able to read.
This cycle of paintings, in need of constant attention, has had a troubled existence due, above all, to the humidity that rises from below and the infiltrations from above. The archives of the Arca are rich in documents that talk about works of restoration. The roof has been repaired various times, the paintings have been covered with canvas, the adjacent sacristy has been eliminated (1877) because it was the cause of humidity. Then with Francesco Zannoni in 1748, and onwards, systematic work was begun on the paintings with greater or lesser success. In 1772 they were trusted to Domenico Buttafoco, in 1835 to Lorenzo Pinzon, in 1960 to G. B. Monici, in 1867 to Guglielmo Botti, in 1877 to Antonio Bertolli, in 1925 to Angelo Moro and in 1967 to Leonetto Tintori. Then Gianluigi Colalucci together with his son Simone did emergency work in 1980.
The decoration on the facade of the oratory, which in 1773 had been embellished on the top with the statues of the saints Anthony, Francis and Bonaventura, was redone in 1927 together with work on the south wall.
Now the upper hall has returned to its ancient splendour, and work will now be done on the little church on the ground floor, so by continuing to sing to the wonders of the Thaumaturge and stimulating his devotees to follow him along the path to Christian perfection.