A wide range of pets paraded through the San Antonio Abad church in Cholula to be blessed in honor of animals’ patron saint, in what was once a worldwide Catholic tradition, but has disappeared in many places.
The feast day for San Antonio Abad, known as St. Anthony the Great in English, occurs on January 17. Catholic churches all over Mexico celebrate the day by allowing parishioners to bring their animals — with no discrimination on species — to be blessed in St. Anthony’s name.
After their humans listened to Mass and took communion, the creatures great and small at San Antonio Abad church were escorted to receive their sprinkle of holy water. Afterward, some owners took pictures of their animals next to a flower-decorated altar with the saint’s image.
Catholic churches across the city, and across Mexico, welcomed a menagerie of dogs, cats, parrots, turtles, rabbits, sheep and more.
According to Catholic tradition, St. Anthony — a fourth-century Christian monk born in Egypt whose biography helped spread monasticism and Christianity’s ascetic ideal — came to have a special relationship with animals while living an ascetic life in the desert for 13 years. Catholic farmers traditionally looked to St. Anthony to bless their fields and their work with animals.
The blessing of animals is still carried out in some European countries. In the 1990s, the practice saw a revival in some parts of the world where it had been forgotten.
Puebla’s Juan Feliciano Macuil, the owner of jaripeo bulls, said gratitude is why he brings a different bull to church every year for the blessing. Bulls represent his economic means, he said.
This year, Feliciano brought Charrasqueado, who the night before “gave a beautiful [show]” at a local fair, according to Feliciano’s companion.
He stressed that the purpose of bringing pets to church on this day is to ask God, through St. Anthony, that one’s pets and animals grow up healthy so that they can “reproduce constantly to help in daily life.”
Not everyone saw it that way, however: Ernestina García, the owner of the Maltese “Güero,” told the news agency EFE that she asks St. Anthony to take care of and protect her pet, since Güero is her beloved companion.