The traditional blessing of the animals takes place in St Peter’s Square from 10.00-15.00 on 17 January, the feast day of St Anthony Abbot, patron saint of animals.
The event is organised by the Associazione Italiana Allevatori and sponsored this year by Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, with advertising in the Italian press.
The blessing in Rome used to be a low-keyed event celebrated in the church of S. Eusebio in Piazza Vittorio. S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini off Corso Vittorio Emanuele is also known as a church in Rome where domestic animals are welcome.
In 2008 the traditional event, which used to be mainly for farm animals when Italy was an agricultural society, was also adopted by St Peter’s basilica although small domestic pets are more the order of the day than cattle, sheep and pigs. Those participating this year may also ask for a free check-up for their animals during the event.
St Anthony Abbot, one of the desert fathers of the early Church is usually depicted with a pig under his arm and sheep at his feet. He is also patron saint of butchers, cemetery workers and those with skin diseases (hence the Italian name Il Fuoco di S. Antonio which is often translated as shingles but is more correctly ergotism).