More saints than Francis of Assisi loved their pets

By | October 7, 2011

“May you be praised Lord in all your creatures,” Francis wrote. Around 1910, an English clergyman, William Draper, translated Francis’ canticle into English and paired it with music from a 17th century German hymn for a children’s festival. Today, we know Draper’s version as “All Creatures of Our God and King.”
As the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” reminds us, “Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence, they bless him and give him glory. Thus people owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals” (n. 2416).
As the catechism hints at, there are other saints who are linked with pets and various animals. St. Philip Neri, known as the Apostle of Rome, is one of these. Philip was a 16th century saint who has a connection to cats, since it is said that he traveled the streets of Rome with his pet cat in a basket.
Another saint known as a patron of cats is St. Gertrude of Nievelles, who lived in what is now Belgium. This seventh century Benedictine abbess is often depicted with mice and/or cats because she is a patron against rat and mice infestations. (Remember that rats carried fleas which carried the plague) This alone would make Gertrude seem to be a lover of cats.
While not a direct patron of animals, St. Jerome is often depicted with a really large cat: a lion. According to “The Golden Legend,” a popular 13th century book about the lives of the saints, Jerome had pulled a thorn from the paw of a lion. The grateful creature then remained with the saint for the rest of his life. (The story is reminiscent of the tale of the slave Androcles, found in copies of Aesop’s fables.)
Another common time for pet blessings is Jan. 17, the feast of St. Anthony the Great, (also known as Anthony of Egypt and Anthony, Abbot). Pet and animal blessings on this day are common in countries of Spanish heritage, including Mexico. Anthony was one of the desert fathers and is considered the “Father of Monks.” He lived in the third and fourth centuries, but his connection to animals is somewhat vague. Mostly, he is attributed with being kind to animals, perhaps even blessing them, and not eating meat.
One place that has continued the tradition of St. Anthony’s blessing is Los Angeles’ Olvera Street. This is the site of an annual pet blessing, complete with a parade, on the Saturday before Easter. The tradition there dates to at least 1930 and was first celebrated on Jan. 17, but was moved later in the year because of warmer weather.
Certain saints are connected with specific animals: there is St. Martin of Tours for horses and St. Roch and St. Lazarus (the beggar in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the beggar) for dogs. St. Brigid of Ireland is a patron of pigs, since she is said to have tamed a wild boar.
St. Francis of Paola is said to have had a pet lamb and a pet trout (named Martinello and Antonello), that were accidentally killed for food. However, the saint raised both pets from the dead — one of many resurrection legends associated with Francis. He is also known to have abstained from all meat, fish and animal products, such as eggs and milk.
St. Anthony of Padua was said to have preached to fish when heretics wouldn’t stop to listen to his words. And another legend says Anthony made a wager with a merchant in Ramini, Italy, about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Anthony wagered that the man’s donkey, if starved for three days, would still prefer the Eucharist to a pail of food. Of course, the saint won and the merchant was converted by the faith of his donkey.
For those who might not be as fond as Francis was of all God’s creatures, yes, there is even a patron saint of spiders. St. Felix of Nola, was a third century confessor of the faith (which means he wasn’t martyred, but suffered for the faith). The legend says that Felix had to hide in a vacant building from Roman soldiers who were persecuting Christians. The soldiers avoided searching the building because spiders had spun webs over the entry as soon as Felix was inside to make it appear uninhabited.
And if you are wondering if there is a patron saint for those who take care of animals, there is St. Blase. This fourth century martyr, best known for blessings of the throats, is also the patron saint of veterinarians since he is said to have cured sick animals and prayed while in the midst of wild animals.

Sources: “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; “Catechism of the Catholic Church”; Saints.SQPN.com; and fisheaters.com

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