MONDAY, JANUARY 17: Many Mexican families’ animal companions are showered with blessings today as Hispanic Christians observe the feast of St. Anthony the Great (also known as St. Anthony of the Desert). The lives of St. Anthony and St. Francis of Assisi are remarkably similar. Some Christians look to the feast of St. Francis as a time for animal blessings. However, many Hispanic families hold such blessings near St. Anthony’s day. In the San Diego area, the annual rite is called the Benediction of the Beasts. (Banderas News interviewed Mexican pet owners at a St. Anthony mass few years ago—click here for more.) Pet blessings also occur at this time of year in other parts of the world where Christians have a special devotion to St. Anthony—so you might see news items about such events popping up in other countries, as well.
In the third century, the young man who would become known to the world as St. Anthony sold his generous inheritance and spent the following decades living in solitude in wilderness areas. St. Anthony viewed the world as full of sin, and it wasn’t until age 54 that he came out of solitude to grant mounting requests that he create a monastery. (AmericanCatholic has details.) After years as an important Christian leader, St. Anthony died in solitude at 105. Interestingly, St. Anthony is known for being a joyful saint, and he derived much of his joy from animals and the natural world.
In Mexico, Spain and other countries with sizeable Hispanic communities, today’s event can be quite a sight: Some pet owners dress up their pets for blessings. According to the blog of a world traveler, Jan. 17 in Spain brings pets dressed to the nines in necklaces, bows and braids. This isn’t entirely fanciful; many people also regard the annual blessing as part of proper healthcare for their pets. Many families make sure to take photos with their well-groomed companions to remember the occasion. Such traditions started in the Americas when early Mexican farmers invoked the blessing of St. Anthony on their animals and their farm work in general. For all of us, to this day, St. Anthony’s feast is a global reminder of the importance of our relationship with nature.