The Festivals of the Popular Saints in June in Lisbon
Authentic popular festivals
June in Lisbon is the festival of popular saints, patron saints and tutelary saints. Starting with Saint Anthony, the city’s unofficial patron saint, who some people think came from Padua, even though he was born near the Cathedral (Santa Maria Maior).
Saint Anthony is adored and venerated, and his cult is still very much alive.
The feast day of Saint Anthony is 13 June. Saint João is venerated on the 24th and Saint Pedro on the 29th.
The celebrations traditionally began on the night of 12 to 13 June. Today, they run from 1 June – or the following weekend – until the end of the month.
There’s the religious aspect, because Saint Anthony, a holy matchmaker who helps people find lost things, including love, is simply adored.
But the devotion is also the occasion for festivities and celebrations that transform Lisbon from top to bottom.
The city maintains the popular tradition, which it enriches with a parallel and complementary programme that is more contemporary and diverse.
It’s impossible to list all the dozens and dozens of shows and events that take place throughout the month of June.
Please refer to the article on the cultural programme on this website, which is updated every year.
Here, at www.lisbonne-affinités.com, are a few tips for discovering and enjoying the festivities.
The marches: competitions, fanfare and enthusiasm.
On the night of 12 to 13 June (Saint Anthony’s Day) on the Avenue of Freedom, the parishioners – Lisbon is divided into parishes, or freguesias, which correspond to the boroughs.
They march in the name of their district, respecting the rules laid down.
The marches are prepared throughout the year. They are the subject of a fiercely contested competition, during which the originality of the march, the interpretation, the artistic quality and the costumes are judged.
The artistic director, costume designer and jockstrap makers all compete in ingenuity.
They are the only ones paid by the Juntas de Freguesias. The current tradition – over 75 years old – has brought back to life the medieval customs of allegiance and processions.
The extras, all amateurs, stop in front of the mayor to dance and present him with small gifts emblematic of the district. Colourful, sometimes kitschy, often original and amusing, the parade is one of the highlights of the June festivities.
A whirlwind of skirts and petticoats, television celebrity godparents, enthusiastic gallants, impeccable dance steps…
Every neighbourhood dreams of winning the prize. The competition actually takes place on the first weekend in June, in the Altice Arena (Parc des Nations district) in front of a very serious jury.
However, the winner will not be announced until after the parade down the Avenue de la Liberté.
The arraials: a rural tradition turned urban
An arraial is a country word that refers to the open space in the middle of villages where wheat used to be threshed and where people used to come to negotiate and dance.
Today, the squares of Lisbon are the scene of festivities, and are transformed into arraials.
Flonflons and popular bals, grilled sardines and barrels of beer…. are there to liven up the evenings.
The important thing is to be outside, stuffing your face with sardines when they’re at their best, dancing and singing. There are arraials to suit all tastes. They are regulated and subject to municipal authorisation.
However, many are improvised, run by cafés and restaurants. And sometimes by people who set up a brazier in order to earn a few euros.
The family and neighbours’ tables have disappeared somewhat. Too many people to invite everyone to sit down and eat a sardine.
Meanwhile, the tolerant city of Lisbon is organising an arraial Lisboa Pride. The LGBT arraial is taking place on the Place du Commerce (Terreiro do paço).
You can check the date in the festivities programme at https://egeac.pt/festas/festas-de-lisboa/
Manjerico, the green ball of basil
The little ball of basil is a good luck charm.
Appreciated by the Romans for its heady, mosquito-killing fragrance, this is the decorative version that people give themselves at the time of Saint Anthony’s Day and the Popular Saints.
Tradition has it that you simply pass your hand a few centimetres above the plant and then smell it, to avoid damaging the basil.
You can’t eat it, but it’s a token of love and passion. Like her, it is fragile. Never water it over the leaves or expose it to the sun for too long.
love it while it lasts
See our article on the manjerico
Saint Anthony, his thrones, his church, his marriages
The thrones of Saint Anthony
In 2015, the Town Hall revived the tradition of Saint Anthony’s thrones, which dates back to the 13th century. The idea is to make a throne out of whatever you have on hand, in homage to the patron saint. There are no winners or losers… just the pleasure of taking part.
The children love it. They take the opportunity to beg – as tradition dictates – for “a little coin for Saint Anthony”.
Take a good look at the shop windows: they vie with each other in imagination to pay tribute to the patron saint.
Saint Anthony’s Day brides and grooms
On 12 June, people get married in Lisbon Cathedral. The Saint Anthony’s wedding is one of the highlights of the celebrations. And no festival is complete without a Saint Anthony’s wedding.
The couples are carefully selected and prepared – it’s not always easy to present yourself to strangers.
They also parade along the Avenue of Freedom.
Museum dedicated to Saint Anthony
Finally, there is a special programme dedicated to Saint Anthony, who has his own church and museum not far from the Cathedral. Here again, please refer to the official programme https://egeac.pt/festas/festas-de-lisboa/