June Festivals: Learn About the Catholic Saints Celebrated in June in Brazil

June Festivals

Devotion to Saint John, Saint Anthony, and Saint Peter Highlights June Festivals (Origanlly in Portuguese: Festas Juninas).

Throughout June, we celebrate one of Brazil’s most beloved traditions: the June festivals, known as “festas juninas.” Beyond the colorful flags, bonfires, and various traditional foods, these festivities have a strong characteristic that has remained since the Portuguese brought this custom to Brazil during the colonial period: the celebration of the Catholic saints of June.

The most famous of these saints, Saint John, is celebrated by the Catholic Church on June 24th. In some parts of Brazil, the June festivals are even better known as celebrations of Saint John. Additionally, the feast days of Saint Anthony and Saint Peter are observed on June 13th and 29th, respectively.

The Connection Between June Festivals and the Catholic Church

In the Northern Hemisphere, the beginning of summer in June was traditionally celebrated by pagan religions with customs that predate Christianity. These pagan festivities honored the harvest, earth’s fertility, and human fertility, but were not accepted by the church. Over time, Christianity incorporated and replaced these seasonal celebrations with those dedicated to the Catholic saints of June.

The June festivals were brought to Brazil with the Catholic tradition by the Portuguese. Over time, they were Brazilianized with various elements of our culture, cuisine, and music. Nevertheless, the three Catholic saints of June continue to be celebrated in the country.

Meet the Saints of June

Saint Anthony – June 13th

Saint Anthony and Jesus Christ
Saint Anthony and Jesus Christ

Known as the “matchmaker saint,” Saint Anthony is celebrated on this day because he died on June 13, 1231, and was canonized a year later by Pope Gregory IX. Born on August 15, 1195, in Lisbon, Portugal, his baptismal name was Fernando de Bulhões. Despite being born into the royal court, he chose to leave it to join the Franciscan Order.

Many miracles are attributed to him, including healings and premonitions, but his nickname as the matchmaker comes from stories of how he would mobilize wealthy individuals to raise funds and provide dowries for poor women so they could marry.

Saint John – June 24th

Saint John baptized Jesus Christ
Saint John baptized Jesus Christ

The most remembered saint during the June festivals, Saint John was the cousin of Jesus, the son of Saint Zacharias and Saint Elizabeth. His feast day is celebrated on his birthday, June 24th. His fame is so great that in some places, the celebrations are still called “joaninas” (relating to John).

According to biblical accounts, Saint John was born six months before Jesus. Elizabeth received a visit from her cousin Mary, and baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, recognizing Mary as the mother of the future savior. John also baptized Jesus Christ, who canonized him during his lifetime.

Bonfires, a key symbol of our June festival, are also part of John’s story. It is said that Elizabeth used a bonfire to signal her cousin Mary of John’s birth. He is the patron saint of the sick and married couples.

Saint Peter – June 29th

Saint Peter statue
Saint Peter (São Pedro) statue

Saint Peter was the first pope of the Catholic Church, with the longest papacy in history, lasting 37 years. He was born at the end of the 1st century BC in Palestine and was originally named Simon. Before becoming an apostle, he was a fisherman.

One of Jesus’ closest disciples and a leader among his followers, it was Christ himself who changed his name to Peter, indicating that he would be the “rock” upon which Jesus would build his church, according to the Bible.

Saint Peter is especially venerated in the Northeast of Brazil, as he is believed to have control over rain. This belief stems from a biblical passage where he receives the power of the Holy Spirit and “the keys to heaven.” He is the patron saint of widows, fishermen, and the pope.

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