January 17 – Feast Day of San Antonio de Abad (Saint Anthony Abbot)
The blessing of the animals is the most famous element of this day, which is the only day animals are allowed into Catholic churches.
Animals are adorned in ribbons and bows, and priests bless them.
January 17th is the Feast of San Antonio Abad, who is also known as San Antón in Spain. Although he was a hermit from Egypt, since Medieval times he has been the patron saint of domestic animals. To celebrate his feast, the night before and the day of the actual feast on January 17th, the Spanish build huge bonfires or hogueras in the streets, especially in Andalucia, Castilla-La Mancha, the Community of Valencia and Aragón. In Cataluna and the Balearic Islands, there are mounted processions in the streets. The townspeople gather around the bonfires, visit, eat, dance and drink.
This religious holiday is marked by the blessing of animals, which are allowed to enter Catholic churches for the day. An interesting view into Mexico’s dedication to religion, the day is marked by townspeople and farmers bringing pets and livestock to receive their blessings. Following animal-friendly church services, congregations and visitors enjoy a feast to celebrate. The event, which also showcases a number of spectacular local Catholic churches, is free.
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If you like animals, there is no entertainment quite like seeing hundreds of pets, dogs, cats, horses, and even iguanas, snakes, and roosters, all converging in one square to be sprinkled with holy water! January 17th, is yet another important Saint’s Day in Spain, that of San Antonio Abad, patron saint of animals.
Naturally there’s an important backstory to Antonio Abad, also known as Anthony the Great. He was a Catholic (Coptic) monk born in 3rd-century AD Egypt who was known for spreading monasticism, but is now most famous for being the first to practice the asceticism of going into the wilderness to renew one’s faith through nature. This is how he became associated with animals. (Odd side note: He is also the Saint to whom you appeal to get rid of skin diseases, i.e. “St. Anthony’s fire”!)
On a day that celebrates animals in Spain, the horse is the central protagonist. For the week or so leading up to his saint’s day, roughly January 11th through 17th, there are numerous equestrian exhibitions and “cabalgatas”, or cavalcades of horses passing through the streets all over Spain (especially in coastal towns and cities and on the islands).
See more at: http://www.thespainscoop.com/fiestas-de-san-antonio-abad-pets-have-festival/
St. Anthony the Abbot is most well known as the Patriarch of Monks; the father of western monasticism. He is also the patron saint of grave-diggers and the protector of domestic animals such as cattle and other livestock. He is especially invoked by the people of Villavallelonga for the protection against the disaster from fire.