Tribute to ‘black’ St Anthony at Praya Lane, Melaka

The Portuguese-Eurasian community, as well as the former residents of Praya Lane paid tribute to the ‘Black Anthony’ in conjunction with the Feast of St Anthony of Padua on June 13 at the Assumption Chapel nestled between Banda Hilir and Taman Melaka Raya.

Jun 26, 2014

By Percy D’Cruz
The Portuguese-Eurasian community, as well as the former residents of Praya Lane paid tribute to the ‘Black Anthony’ in conjunction with the Feast of St Anthony of Padua on June 13 at the Assumption Chapel nestled between Banda Hilir and Taman Melaka Raya.

The shrine was erected by Fr John Paul D’Souza in 1959, within the chapel’s compound for the veneration of the saint: a black wooden statue of St Anthony said to be over two hundred years old.

The weekly Tuesday novena, Eucharistic Celebration and distribution of blessed hot-cross buns, is attended by many Catholics and non-Christians living in Praya Lane and the surrounding areas of Kampong Tengah and Lorong Banda Hilir.

The late Fr Manuel J. Pintado in his book Survival Through Human Values published in 1974, mentioned an 80-year-old lady, Emerlinda Fernandez who, as a child, prayed before the statue of St Anthony kept at the family altar of one Margarida Rodriguez who was then around 60 years old. This home devotion to the saint was highly regarded by the residents of Praya Lane.

It is recorded that each year on June 13, the feastday of the saint was celebrated in grand fashion with much devotion and prayer. The feastday was preceded by a thirteen-day prayer meet. On June 13, the statue was carried in procession to the Assumption Chapel where a Thanksgiving High Mass was sung.

Fr Pintado’s notes further state that the return of the statue to the home of the owner was also marked by another procession. Along the route back, large crowds joined the procession which was accompanied by prayers, hymns and the recital of the rosary.

Mention is also made in Fr Pintado’s book that it was the last private owner of the statue, one Tracia De Silva who in 1958 following much persuasion, decided to transfer ownership of the statue to the Church of St. Peter, thus terminating a long chapter of private ownership and devotion conducted at homes in Praya Lane. With the subsequent erection of the shrine at the Assumption Chapel, the devotion to the saint was celebrated in the Chapel.

As to why the wooden statue was of a black hue, there is no mention anywhere in Fr Pintado’s book. However, very senior parishioners of Assumption Chapel who claim family ties to the statue’s previous owners, say that it was due to the smoke and soot gathered from lighted candles when weekly devotions were conducted at homes.

Seventy-seven-year old Lionel Theseira, a long time Praya Lane resident now living at the Portuguese Settlement said: “Instead of leaving heritage alone, a few years back, the local chapel authorities saw fit to repaint the statue in pastel hues complete with gold trimmings and etchings on his vest. Nevertheless, for us old timers and devotees, we still refer to the statue as our Black Anthony.”

Meanwhile, Fr Lionel Thomas who presided at the feastday Eucharistic Celebration, called on the faithful to always adopt the Christian way of living where virtue, love, caring, sharing, faithfulness and honesty should prevail at all times. Otherwise, we would get by in life without proper moral values he said.

Fr Lionel emphasized on the four virtues practised by St Anthony, namely Prayer Life, Word of God, Docility and Obedience, which would also build up one’s faith, if we were to live by them he added. He spiced up his homily with expressions in Cristao (an old Portuguese dialect.)

"St Anthony kept these four virtues steadfast while building his Christian life on a firm faith foundation. We come here not just to light candles and pray but to learn from this saint how to be good Catholics. Christiana are not born but made to be disciples. To be committed to the Person of Jesus is a hard choice. As we have made that choice it has now to be cultivated. We come here to thank God for the gift of St Anthony, to be committed in our faith and be rooted in Christ and to do His Will,” he concluded.

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