Italy’s blessing of the animals tradition goes virtual

Rome: Italy celebrates the feast day of St Anthony Abbot, the patron saint and protector of animals, on Sunday 17 January 2021.

This year however, due to the coronavirus crisis, the annual Blessing of the Animals ceremony at the Vatican will not take place.

The tradition normally involves an open air stable set up in front of St Peter’s Square with horses, cows, sheep, pigs, goats and hens, as well as dogs and cats.

The traditional Mass for farmers and their families will be celebrated St Peter’s tomorrow, 18 January, but without any animals present outside, reports Vatican News.

However a parish in Rieti, north-east of Rome, is offering a symbolic blessing of all creatures great and small, with people sending photos of their pets and farm animals to Monsignor Benedetto Falcetti at the church of S. Michele Arcangelo.

In addition to animals and farmers, St Anthony Abbot is the patron saint of basket weavers and grave diggers, and is believed to protect against skin diseases, especially shingles.

The saint, who died in Egypt in 356, has always enjoyed a widespread following among Italy’s agricultural communities.

According to an ancient legend from the Veneto in northern Italy, on the night of 17 January animals acquired the ability to speak.

On this night each year, it is said that people were kept away from stables because to hear the animals talk was considered a bad omen.