In the afternoon sunshine, I stood in the noisy queue that snaked around the church of San Antonio de La Florida, on the bank of the Manzanares river in Madrid. It was June 13, the feast day of St Anthony of Padua, and I was joining the hundreds of women of all ages who were taking part in one of Madrid´s stranger traditions.
St Anthony of Padua is apparently able to rustle up lovers for anyone who might require one – or more. The deal is that you have to drop 13 pins into the church font – which is taken outside into the garden to accommodate the crowds – then put the palm of your hand on top to see how many stick to it. You do this three times, and the number of pins that stick indicates the number of boyfriends you can expect to come along in the year to come. I got two each time, which the new friends I had made while waiting in the queue told me meant absolutely definitely two, rather than a total of six.
The ritual, thought to have been started by seamstresses, was described by Nina Epton in her book called simply Madrid, published in 1964: ´The plump girl raised her hand – three pins were stuck to her palm. She blushed with pleasure, raised her skirt and attached the pins to the hem of her petticoat. “And what is that for?” I persisted… “That,” said the plump girl, smiling broadly, “is to make quite sure.” The gesture was obvious enough, I really did not need to ask.’