And God maketh the beast of the earth after its kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, and God seeth that it was good.
— Genesis 1:25
Before there was Doctor Dolittle, there was St. Anthony Abad, patron saint of the animal kingdom.
St. Anthony the Hermit, or St. Anthony the Great, was born in Egypt in 251 AD and lived to be 105. At age 34, he relinquished all his wealth and headed into the desert to be alone with God and meditate on Christ. He spent twenty years in isolation living in an abandoned Roman fort on a mountain by the Nile. The devil tormented him with images of animals attacking him, but Anthony never gave in.
Later in life, according to legend, various animals helped guide Anthony on his travels, including a wolf and a raven. Once a dog attacked his enemy. Once he cured a pig from illness. He’s often pictured wandering the wilderness with a pig by his side.
Anthony’s other claim to fame was his fight against the followers of Arian Christianity in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. Arias was an Egyptian Christian who taught that, while Jesus was divine, he was not the same as God. The Council of Nicea declared Arian Christianity heretical in 325 AD.
Blessings of pets and livestock are common, but not limited to Latin and Hispanic cultures. The biggest ceremonies occur on the Sundays nearest the feast days of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4) and St. Anthony the Hermit (January 17).
St. Anthony died on January 17, celebrated as his spiritual birth in Heaven.
Even now I remember being caught up in the moment, feeling inexplicably happy when my doggie received her very own blessing from the priest. When all is said and done, it was a remarkable experience, a chance to share our love for our beloved pets, and to renew our commitment to protecting and respecting all of God’s creatures.
Rose Lee Hayden, Goin’ to the Chapel, The Blessing of the Animals a la Romana