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Sant' Antonio, Patrono degli Animali

Anne Robichaud

We just made it out of the coldest May in 200 years. "Come gennaio," Pino lamented this morning. Not quite like January but...

Sant Antionio Patron Saint of AnimalsJanuary is the month of the Egyptian 4thC hermit saint, Anthony Abbot, patron saint of animals and also of the village of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. Throughout Italy, animals are blessed on his feast day, January 17th. Years ago - when many more farmed - I remember the array of geese, ducks, chickens, rabbits, sheep, piglets, oxen, mules, donkeys - awaiting the blessing. The fauna variety has changed: this year, owners brought dogs - of every breed and size, many collared with the traditional red Sant'Antonio kerchiefs - cats, a rabbit, a guinea pig, horses, and a pair of the hefty white Chianina oxen to be blessed in front of the Basilica di S. Maria degli Angeli.

Sant Antonio Patron Saint of Animals

The oxen hauled a colorful farm cart bearing the venerated image of Sant'Antonio in a procession winding through the village, prior to the blessing of the animals and the bread (symbolic of the food fed to the poor on his day). Carabinieri in elegant dress uniform on horseback, Franciscans (bearing a St. Anthony relic), Assisi's mayor and the town trumpeters in medieval dress, children in a 19thC carriage prototype followed Sant'Antonio.

Near Sant'Antonio, twelve 2013 Priori Serventi ("Serving Prioris") in elegant black capes and top hats walked solemnly, together with fellow Priori of past years, their cape colors indicating their serving years: ivory white (1986), rich bordeaux (2008), forest green (2001), or blazing scarlet wool capes. The 2012 Priori proudly flaunted deep blue velvet capes. As elderly Fabiano in white told me: "we all try to do outdo each other in elegance. After all, siamoilpaesedellamod ... e dellacompetizione!" (We are the country of fashion and of competition)

The Priori organize the festival of il Piatto di Sant'Antonio, an Angelano tradition, born during a deadly mid-19thC epidemic of the postal stagecoach horses (of the Florence-Rome route). The stable owner invoked who else but Sant'Antonio, begging the Franciscans of the nearby Basilica di S. Maria degli Angeli to start a triduo di preghierato (Three-day period of prayer) for the Saint. The plague desisted: in thanks, the town celebrated Antonio's feast day with a procession and a meal for the poor. Nowadays, 28 different restaurants serve this Piatto di S. Antonio on the Sunday after his feast: maccheroni, two slices of beef, four sausages, two meatballs, bread, 1/2 litre red wine, two apples.

These days, a hefty lunch as the 19thC poor were served beans and pigskin soup (fagioli con le cotiche).

Contributed by Anne Robichaud (see bio) - Anne offers unique guided tours of the Umbrian hilltowns (centered on art, history and contact with "the locals") and cooking classes in the family Assisi area farmhouse (see www.annesitaly.com/Cooking.html). She and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970's and rural life, rural people are una passione for Anne. Anne teaches Umbrian rural cuisine in private homes in the U.S. each year in February and March. She writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. See www.annesitaly.com for more on her US Events, tours, cooking classes – and her blog! Coming soon: website on the Assisi apartment she and Pino now rent!

© Anne Robichaud, 2013. Do not republish without permission.

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