A bright crisp January morning and the sound of barking dogs filled the air in Barga as once again it was time for the annual celebrations for San Antonio – the annual blessing of the animals organised by the l’Associazione “L’Arca della Valle, la Polisportiva Val di Lago and the Comune. As usual, Don Stefano was there to sprinkle holy water over the many participants waiting outside the church at Sacre Cuore.
The blessing marks the saint’s day of St Anthony Abbot, patron saint of domestic animals and the countryside, which is officially on 17th January, but has now been moved to the nearest convenient Sunday.
Historically, the blessing of animals dates back to the ancient Roman celebration of the Ferie Sementine, a pre-spring fertility festival to honour the gods Cerere Terra, during which a pregnant animal was sacrificed and garlanded oxen were paraded about.
By the 8th century, this Roman festival had evolved to the point where work animals — donkeys, horses, and oxen — were given a symbolic “day off” while their owners sought the Church’s divine protection for the creatures upon whose hooves their very livelihood depended.
This Christian ceremony may appear strange to some people who maybe think that the whole idea of animals having a spirit, an anima, and therefore needing or benefiting from a blessing is something of an anathema but there is a long tradition of priests blessing not just animals but also inanimate objects, such as new completed buildings, boats being launched and even Harley Davidson choppers … anybody here remember the event held every year further up the mountain at San Pelligrino ìn Alpe where Don Giovanni stands on the back of a”chopped” Harley Davidson and rides along blessing the assembled motorbikes and their riders ? (article here)