The Blessing of Animals in Mallorca, known here as “Ses Beneïdes de Sant Antoni”;
Saint Anthony Abbot lived in Lower Egypt during the second half of the third century. Although he was heir to a large fortune, chose to follow the Gospel, gave all his possessions to the poor and decided to live a life of penance in the desert wilderness where, according to popular tradition, the devil tempted him constantly without success. The day of his death on 17 January of the year 356, two big lions approached him and lamenting the death of the saint and they dug the grave with their claws. While lions kissed the hands of Sant Antoni, he blessed them.
Saint Anthony Abbot, known as well like Anthony the Great, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite and Father of All Monks, is recognized as the Patron Saint of animals, especially beasts. The festivity of this saint comes from ancient Christian ceremonies and primitive cults dedicated to protective deitie´s pastoral livestock, mostly pigs and mules. Some authors relate this celebration with animals with the usual Roman celebration as in ancient Rome, January 8 was the festivity of the Coronation of the Donkeys, held at Jupiter´s Altar.
Like any peasant saint, was and is greatly venerated in Mallorca inland. “The Beneïdes” (The Blessing of Animals) of 17 January were and are very busy and population in Mallorca has a lot of verses to dedicate to him like “Sant Antoni es un bon Sant i qui té un dobler li dóna perquè li guard s´animal tant si és de pèl com de ploma”…that more or less translated to English would be “Saint Anthony is a great saint and who has money gives it to him to bless his animals either hair or feather”.
Every January 17th is “The Beneïdes” or the Blessing of Animals are organized in different villages of Mallorca and one of the most striking of them are “Ses Beneïdes de Muro”, in Muro town, where the blessings are a leading carnival as the townspeople not only bless their animals, but held a very participatory party where the townspeople disguises a multitude of ways, although it is noteworthy that dominate the typical issues like ancient peasant dresses from Mallorca and among children is plenty of little devils and “Sant-Antoniets” (small Anthony).
There are other places on the island where “The Beneïdes” held, as in Palma, our capital. “Die Balearen” from Archduke Luis Salvador (1871) already described as elapse the Blessing of Sant Antoni in Palma: “The most striking on 17 January, the day of Saint Anthony Abbot, in Palma and other towns this tradition is celebrated and aims blessing of horses, mules and donkeys. Then in Palma, while a religious ceremony is held in the small church of Sant Antoni, in San Miguel street, in honor of this saint, is seen on the street near the church chaplain wearing surplice and stole which is standing behind a table where there is an ornate copper jug containing holy water and a bowl to collect dole. To the church of San Miguel come a large number of horses, mules and donkeys with head and tail decorated with colored ribbons…as passed the chaplain, they stop a moment and during this time the chaplain says a Latin prayer especially for this occasion, wet pennies in the bowl of holy water and take a few drops of water on the animal concerned…Usually the rider, after the chaplain has prayed a special prayer for him deposited some pennies within the basin. Some of them do not stop and therefore give no dole but they get splash of holy water…”
The writer Joan Perucho, from Barcelona, said on one occasion that “The life of the Desert Fathers is a perpetual source of poetry, and Saint Anthony, the demonologist, is the largest of them.” On 17 January 356, Saint Anthony, very old, died in one of the mountain slopes Colzim and precisely this date was chosen for its celebration. Situated at the beginning of winter, was within the ambit of a set of pre-Christian celebrations related to agricultural cycles. The most archaic cultures already had associated January with fertility rituals, purification and restart cycle. With the emergence of Christianity some became blessings, like “Ses Beneïdes” while others survived more or less equal like dinner dances around the fires and demons. This period, the early winter, should also be related to the relaxation of some social standards like peasant people in Mallorca, which due to a reduced workload in rural areas translated into carnivals and dances. Undoubtedly, these ancient traditions conditioned the configured Saint Anthony Festivities as we know them today in the Balearics, Catalonia and Valencia, with certain similarities in other parts of the Mediterranean. Immemorial, therefore, in Saint Anthony day animals are blessed, in a context of carnival party with fire, dance, demons, songs and with good wines and viands.
Currently, “Ses Beneïdes of Sant Antoni” are still celebrating. Now, most horses, mules and donkeys have been replaced by pets (dogs, cats, ferrets, parrots…), but the priest is still blessing and sprinkling of holy water, under the watchful eye of Saint Anthony Abbot sculpture presiding any celebration this day.
The town of Muro enjoys one of the “Beneïdes of Sant Antoni” with more participatory in terms of audience and actors, about 700 children paraded with all kinds of animals and more than 200 horses and carriages underwent blessing. The “Beneïdes de Sant Antoni” in Muro remain the most typical of Mallorca and many groups from all parts of the island flock to Muro to participate in both “Animals Blessing Parade” and a sort of carnival parade that opens the door to the next carnival or to be a spectator and enjoy the parade.
The first part of the parade is the most traditional, young children and people of all ages dressed in traditional costume accompanied by all kinds of animals and pets. We could see from the classic dogs and cats, canaries, rabbits, turtles to hawks, eagles, owls, sheep, geese, pigs, goats all marching to the main square to be blessed by Sant Antoni.
Then it was the turn of horses, ponies, mares and carriages of all kinds. For a while, horses headed Carrer Nou in the town of Muro, which was adorned with sand and myrtle for the occasion. A seniors attending the parade, the show transports them to the “Beneïdes’ of yesteryear, as described earlier in this article. The herds of sheep, goats, geese and pigs were one of the attractions that most excited the whole children present, even adults.
Finally it was the turn of the twenty carnival floats participating in the contest, many of which reconstructed traditional scenes like making buns, pots and other farm work. Even there were many groups of friends paraded dressed in different themes such as the Kennedys, cartoon characters like Ben and Holly, in charge of a village school, or warlike Romans in conquest plan.
Undoubtedly, if you are visiting the island during the month of January, do not miss the chance to attend the celebration of “Beneïdes” of Sant Antoni, inherited custom of our ancestors, either in the town of Muro or any other location on the island and enjoy it, especially if you animal lover.
You can have a look and see more photos about The Animals Blessing in Muro in our Flickr Photo Channel.