Lisbon fetes ‘saint of love’
Suddenly, the organ music grows louder and photographers get into position in front of the imposing entrance. Then not one, but 11 couples walk out, fresh from tying the knot Wednesday in an all-expenses-paid ceremony, the beneficiaries of a decades-long annual tradition that fetes the Portuguese capital’s beloved patron Saint Anthony, matchmaker extraordinaire. Financed by sponsors and TV rights, broadcast live on television, couples who would not otherwise have the means are gifted a deluxe wedding worth 400,000 euros ($450,000). Couples like fishmongers Tania Silva and Orlando Antunes, who are getting a one-off taste of mega-fame on the eve of Saint Anthony day on June 13, the high point of days-long street-dancing, sardine-grilling festivities in Lisbon. “We’ve been together for nearly 15 years,” said Tania, 30. “We always joked that we would one day get married for Saint Anthony. It’s a sumptuous ceremony which we could never afford.” Interviews, selfies For Tania and her sister brides, the day begins early at city hall. For hours, they sit in front of identical mirrors in a room normally used for town hall meetings, Lisbon’s trademark trams passing in the street outside. Hairdressers and makeup artists who competed nationwide for the honor of styling them busy themselves around the brides, a television presenter diving in for the odd interview, an anxious parent taking a quick selfie. Tania’s slightly nervous. “I’m trying to keep calm but it’s difficult,” she says, laughing, as her hairdresser fixes her blond locks into an updo. In the room next door hang the white wedding dresses, all donated by different designers. “Breathe,” jokes one bride as a helper tightens her lacy corset. All in all, 16 couples are getting married, five of them in a civil ceremony. They go first, appearing on the balcony of city hall after the event, waving down to a cheering crowd as a band from Lisbon University plays a serenade and a television drone films the moment. The 11 other couples are destined for the cathedral, some 650 metres (2,100 feet) away up a steep hill at the entrance of Lisbon’s famed Alfama old quarter.