St. Anthony the Abbot was a hermit and early monk, who lived in seclusion in Egypt’s desert with animals as his only companions. St. Anthony the Abbot’s believed strongly in man’s responsibility to protect otherwise defenseless domesticated animals.
St. Anthony also changed ancient man’s perception of the pig as a dirty animal with ties to the devil, into edible livestock, much to the future happiness of Oscar Meyer. Consequently, in art St. Anthony the Abbot is commonly seen between a dog and a pig.
Anthony was the first monk to go into the wilderness, which seems to have contributed to his renown. His biography was very early on spread far and wide. For his importance among the desert fathers and to all later Christian monasticism, he is also known as the Father of All Monks.
Here in Mexico the indigenous strongly believed in the equilibrium between man and the natural world. Therefore, they readily accepted St. Anthony the Abbot’s thoughts on man’s responsibilities to domestic animals.
St. Anthony the Abbot is not to be confused with the much later St. Anthony of Padua for whom Colonia San Antonio is named and in whose honor Dia de los Locos is celebrated. St. Anthony the Abbot does not have a colonia, but does have a street in El Centro named after him. He is celebrated on January 17 with animal blessing being held around town. Locations vary but the blessings are most commonly held at the Parroquia, the Oratorio, San Antonio and San Juan de Dios.
Pets and farm animals of every shape and kind, from cats, dogs, birds and turtles, to hens, rabbits, ducks and even burros are brought to the churches to be blessed by the priest. This moving ceremony is believed to keep evil spirits away from the home and land. The concept is tied to the pre-Hispanic customs of celebrating animal fertility and regeneration of the fields between the winter solstice and summer equinox.