TUESDAY, JANUARY 17: The entire Roman Catholic Church marks the Feast of Anthony the Great today, but Spanish and Mexican Catholics put color and flair into the celebration: Today, the Spanish feast around bonfires and, in Mexico, devotees dress up their animals for an official blessing. Traditional accounts say that the 3rd century saint known as Anthony of Egypt was the first monk to live in the wilderness. As such, he became associated with the blessing of animals. For centuries, Mexicans have brought everything from pigs, cattle and livestock to cats, dogs and other household pets to church for a St. Anthony’s blessing.
Non-Hispanic Christians associate animal blessings with St. Francis of Assisi, but St. Anthony preceded St. Francis of Assisi by more than 900 years. (Get details at Wikipedia.) It’s unclear how St. Anthony became associated with livestock and lower animals, but some claim that, being in the wilderness, his diet reflected a pig’s; others say he treated skin diseases with pork fat.
As with many noted Christian figures, St. Anthony fled from a wealthy family and gave his riches to the poor before turning to a simple, holy life. St. Anthony’s ascetic life spread the popularity of monasticism, and the biography of his life further spread the concept. (Looking for a healthy recipe for today? Try a San Antonio Salad!)