Strolling along the famed Riverwalk a turn on the walking trail reveals the image of a saintly young man cast in bronze. From the robes and distinctive haircut, a visitor could easily assume this was a statue of Saint Francis. That assumption would be wrong, but not too far away from the truth. The statue is actually of the namesake of the city, Saint Anthony, or as he’s known in his native Portugal, San Antonio.
The story of Saint Anthony does include Saint Francis. Though that connection came later, after he had already established his reputation as a learned and inspiring preacher. Born in Portugal in 1195 to a wealthy family, the young Fernando Martins began his studies at a local cathedral school. Joining a monastery to pursue his studies in theology and Latin, he eventually was ordained and joined the order. Soon his preaching abilities were revealed and as his reputation grew. He joined the Franciscan order and took on the name Anthony, the patron saint of the small chapel in the local monastery.
But a quiet life of a monk was not Anthony’s fate. His reputation came to the attention of St. Francis, the founder of the order, and requested he join him to lead studies for new friars. St. Anthony’s gift of preaching developed as he used allegory and symbolic explanation to reveal to explain scripture. Antony’s health, however, was not good. He died at the young age of 35. He was canonized within a year after his death, only the second such canonization on record. The saint's statue, as noted on the bronze plaque, has been donated by Saint Anthony's native Portugal.
The statue of San Antonio is located on the Riverwalk near Commerce Street downtown.