Milan priest blesses animals, owners

21 Jan: To celebrate St Anthony the Abbot.

Following a popular tradition in Italy, the blessing of animals – and their keepers – will be carried out on Saturday afternoon 21 January by Don Luciano, priest of the Sant’Eusebio parish in Milan’s Cinisello Balsamo suburb.

Parishioners or not, all are welcome to bring their pets to receive the blessing, and to partake in it. The ceremony is usually a cheerful spectacle, as farmers often also bring sheep, horses or cattle to be blessed.

The tradition is said to arise from the temptation of the third-century St Anthony while he had retired into the desert around Alexandria in Egypt to meditate as a hermit. The devil sent wild animals to attack him, but Anthony remained unimpressed and persuaded them to leave him in peace.

Indeed, in the Veneto region animals are believed to have the power of speech on the evening of St Antony’s day (17 January), although farmers avoid visiting the stalls that night, as overhearing their conversations is rumoured to bring bad luck.

This year’s blessing will take place at 16.00 at the junction of Via Cilea and Via Giolitti in Cinisello Balsamo.