Hundreds of pet owners in Spain took their cats, dogs, ferrets and birds to church on Tuesday, where they were blessed by priests marking Saint Anthony’s Day.
In Spain, Saint Anthony the Great is honoured on the 17th of January – the day he died- as the patron saint of domestic animals. Father Angel Garcia of Saint Anthony’s church blessed dogs and cats in Madrid.
“I think it helps the family. The saint might say, ‘These people are visiting me, so let’s return the favour, so they don’t spend so much at the vet,” the 73-year-old Almudena de Portillo, who made the annual pilgrimage with her greyhound Gris and her two other dogs, said smiling.
“My greyhound is named Rita. We are from the neighbourhood, and every year, if I have a dog, I like to take her to St Anthony. I don’t think it is of much help, but it is a Madrid tradition, and we like to keep it alive,” 51-year-old Carlos Cabestany said.
Saint Anthony the Great, also known as Anthony the Abbot, was an Egyptian Christian monk. He was born in 251 in Egypt and died in 356. He is known for his deep respect and love for animals. According to tradition, he had a special connection with animals, and they were often drawn to him.
He is said to have preached to pigs, birds and other animals, and they would listen attentively to his words. He is also believed to have had the ability to heal animals and protect them from harm. In art, Saint Anthony is often shown surrounded by animals, or holding a pig or other animal.
His devotion to animals is seen as a symbol of his deep connection with God and his understanding of the interdependence of all living things.
Horses jump over fire
The eve before Saint Anthony’s Day, a ceremony called Las Luminarias takes place, where owners jump with their horses over a bonfire in San Bartolome de Pinares in central Spain.
“An outdated tradition in which horses are forced to cross bonfires. Their panicked looks are heartbreaking,” Spanish animal welfare organization PACMA, who documented the evening, said.
🔴 Documentamos las Luminarias, una tradición anacrónica y obsoleta en la que los caballos son obligados a atravesar hogueras. Sus miradas de pánico son desgarradoras.@jcyl, @alferma1, ¿de verdad no os da vergüenza permitir esto? pic.twitter.com/PPEhvAB9y2— PACMA (@PartidoPACMA) January 17, 2023
A hundred horses galloped through the small town’s narrow streets; the smoke and flames of the fire are supposed to purify the horses for the coming year.
“What is done with the purifying smoke that is created from the luminaries, from the fire, is to protect the animals throughout the year. In this case, the horses because in the past they were used to work in agriculture,” the 24-year old teacher and horse rider Miriam Gomez said.
Organizers told news agency Reuters that horses were not harmed as a protective wax is applied to them to prevent burns.
“It has Celtic origins. It consists of placing bonfires throughout the village with a wet broom, that’s why it smokes so much. This (smoke and fire) serves to protect, purify and free animals from epidemics. It can also work for humans,” 42-year-old Almudena Gomez said.