Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church, and one of the most well-known and loved saints in history. This thirteenth century dynamo is most often invoked by those who seek lost items. My grandmother called on him all the time!
Much is known about Saint Anthony, and you can learn about his life here. Today, I want to focus on what I think is one of the coolest things – in sort of a weird way…Saint Anthony’s incorrupt tongue.
Saint Anthony was known to be a great preacher. When townsfolk heard of the arrival of this travelling friar, they would come from far and wide to hear him preach. Author Joseph A. Keller writes in his 1899 book Miracles of Saint Anthony of Padua:
Endowed with great natural gifts, enjoying excellent health, a powerful voice, combined with great eloquence, an admirable delivery, a perfect knowledge of the Scriptures and theology, he was, soon after his ordination, sent to preach in France, Italy and Portugal.
Although in his youth he had never spoken anything but Portuguese, he, like the apostles after Pentecost, received that wonderful gift of tongues,  which not only enabled him to preach even with eloquence in French and Italian, but to make himself under stood by people from all parts of the world.
An instance of this may be given: When ordered by the Holy See to preach the Lenten sermons at Rome he was perfectly understood by the immense multitude from all nations, whom the renown of his great sanctity and marvelous gifts had attracted. This same gift was of most frequent occurrence during his missionary career. (source)
Psalm 16:10 says that God “will not suffer his faithful ones to undergo corruption.” Throughout Church history, incorrupt bodies have served as supernatural evidence of saintliness. Saint Bernadette, Saint John Vianney, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Francis Xavier, and Saint John Bosco, among others, serve as examples. Saint Anthony, being such a gifted orator, I see it as fitting that his organ of speech should be preserved, speaking volumes about his holiness.
The Messenger of Anthony shares with us some interesting facts:
The tongue is one of the most fragile parts of our body. After death, it is the part of our body that decays first. It is therefore significant that precisely this part of the Saint’s body should be one of the best preserved. The discovery of the Saint’s incorrupt tongue occurred in 1263 making this year the 750th anniversary of this discovery.
Pope Gregory IX instituted a regular beatification process which was concluded at lightning speed. Indeed, Saint Anthony’s canonization was the fastest on record, taking less than 12 months. It is reported that during the canonisation ceremony, the bells of all the churches in Lisbon, Anthony’s home town in Portugal, started ringing without anyone having touched them.
In 1263 a new building to house his tomb was almost complete and so it was decided to move the saint’s coffin to the new church. On this occasion the friars also decided to undertake a recognition on his body. This was an important operation, and was undertaken in the presence of religious authorities and 12 laymen who represented the most authoritative citizens of Padua. The Minster General of Franciscans came from Rome – this was Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, a great theologian who was himself later to become a saint.
When the casket was opened something unusual was noticed just below the skull: it was a portion of flesh of a fresh reddish colour. This was the Saint’s tongue which was found to be perfectly preserved. At this point, Saint Bonaventure expressed his joy and surprise with words that have been incorporated into the Antiphony of the Office of the February 15 Feast: O blessed tongue, you have always praised the Lord and led others to praise him! Now we can clearly see how great indeed have been your merits before God.
In 1981, the saint’s coffin was opened and an examination conducted by scientists from the University of Padua. It had been many centuries since the last recognition and the friars wanted to see the state of the relic’s preservation.
The examination produced results of great historical, medical and anthropological value and quite a few surprises as well! One of these was the discovery that the cartilaginous tissue supporting the vocal cords, along with other organic material connected with Anthony’s vocal apparatus, was still remarkably preserved. In 1263 Saint Bonaventure had found the tongue incorrupt, but we, in 1981, also found that other parts of the Saint’s body connected with his vocal apparatus had been preserved from corruption. With this new information, the miracle of the conservation of the Saint’s tongue received added proof. (source)
God gave St. Anthony a “well trained tongue” (Is 50:4), and in only a way that God can, it still speaks today!
St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us! Anne