Why is San Antón considered as the defender of animals?

It was in the 18th century when the pilgrimages that commemorate the day of San Antón, which is celebrated on January 17, began to take place. They still take place today and it has also become common for many people to go to churches with their pets to obtain the blessing of the Patron Saint of Animals. But how does a person become a defender of other animal species?

San Anton, or Anthony the Great: the millennial of the 3rd century

San Antón

Chapel of San Antón in the Cathedral of Segovia. | Zarateman, Wikimedia

It is said that San Antón liked to live surrounded by as many animals as possible, so perhaps he can be considered the first millennial in history. Anthony Abbot or Anton Abbot was born in Egypt in 251 AD. It is said that he lived for 105 years. From the age of 20, he did so in seclusion in a cave, where he sought the purity of his spirit apart from material possessions. Before retiring, he donated all his possessions to the less favored communities.

Antonio Abad, according to the chronicles, learned everything he knew through the contemplation of nature and the life of animals, to which he dedicated practically his entire life. Many miracles related to these animals are attributed to him. For example, he buried the body of St. Paul, the Hermit, with the help of two lions, or that he cured the blindness of some pig cubs, an animal that since then has always remained by his side. This is why he is often depicted with a pig at his feet.

When he finally died, his legend spread like wildfire and many shepherds trusted him to protect their animals. Thus began the offerings, prayers and subsequent pilgrimages that have come down to the present day, in churches as popular as the Real Iglesia de San Antón in Madrid. Hundreds of people congregate there every year on this date. In this way, one becomes the Patron Saint of Animals: protecting and caring for them for a hundred years.

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