I arrived back in Rome yesterday to mild temperatures, about 10C today. Quite a change from Toronto where it was -10C when I left. I was meeting a friend for lunch on the other side of St. Peter`s Piazza from where I live so I had to cross the Piazza whereupon I came across an unusual sight. To my amazement, here were farm animals in cages in front of the Piazza.
There were cows, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, chickens, geese and rabbits. Just like what one sees at a County Fair in Canada. Across from them were farmers on horseback, presumably those engaged in herding livestock for a living.
The Farmers Association were giving out yellow balloons and baseball caps. There were also speeches being made but not a huge number of people to listen to them. I wondered what the point of all of this was.
It turned out that today, January 17 is the Feast Day of St. Anthony Abate who is the patron saint of farm and domestic animals, butchers, grave diggers and basketmakers. As if this wasn`t a strange enough combination, he also protects against skin diseases especially shingles, known as Fuoco di Sant`Antonio (fire of Saint Anthony) in Italy.
The animals are brought to St. Peter`s to be blessed in a symbolic gesture. At noon, the Carabinieri Horse Band headed an equine procession down the Via Concessione leading up to the Basilica where it stopped and played a number of tunes. It was all quite unexpected and unusual but it brightened up my day seeing farm animals in the middle of the city and yellow balloons flying in front of the dome of the basilica. Only in Italy would so much money be spent for a blessing.