St. Anthony Abbot: An Italian Tradition


Not to be confused with St Anthony of Lisbon (Padua) the great Franciscan nor with our Founder, Father, Prophet St Francis of Assisi, on the memorial of St Anthony Abbot (a.k.a. St Anthony the Egyptian, St Anthony of the Desert) animals will be blessed in St. Peter’s Square to mark this saint’s feastday.

January 17 is traditionally the feast day of St. Anthony, Abbot, an Egyptian hermit, whose day has been celebrated in a special way in Italy for many centuries.

St. Anthony, the father of monks, retired to the desert at about the age of eighteen in order to live in perfect solitude. He laid the foundations of community life, and gave to his disciples that profound broad and sane instruction, the mature result of solitude and prayer, which forms the surest basis of Christian asceticism.

The feast of St. Anthony, the Egyptian hermit, is considered to be the founder of monastic life, is celebrated Catholic Church, Lutheran and Coptic Churches. The Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on January 30. His hagiography was passed down to us by St. Athanasius of Alexandria, who was one of Anthony’s disciples and a companion in combatting the Arian heresy.

On January 16-17 in Italy, for example, his memorial is celebrated with vigils, processions, special blessings, parades and bonfires, open air celebrations featuring song, music and historical enactments that recount the life and legend of this saint.

The celebrations usually start with a vigil and is followed by the opening of the stands featuring local and regional food specialties. Early the next day, after morning Mass, the parish priest blesses the bonfires, which are then lit. During the day and into the evening there is dancing, singing and eating, all accompanied by folk music and dramatic performances, poetry recitals and storytelling.

This is a feastday characterized by the blessing of the fields, livestock, animals, and the harvest. Appropriately, St. Anthony is the patron of butchers, peasants, breeders and domestic animals.

Many entrust themselves to his care and intercession, praying for healing of illnesses, but also praying for relief from demonic temptations. In fact, religious art depicts St. Anthony as “the saint of the demonic temptations”; his martyrology recounts how he was continually accosted, at times even physically, during his life, tempted and tormented by the devil and his minions.

St Anthony Patron of Animals

This year, 2012, in Rome, on January 17 Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica  celebrated the blessing of animals in St. Peter’s Square; the animals included chickens, sheep, goats and horses.

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