Tuesday, 20 January 2009

An Ostrich at the Vatican

Saturday was the feast of St Anthony of Egypt, the desert Father whose story was so memorably told by St Athanasius. In Italy he is known as San Antonio Abate and is often depicted with animals (especially a pig) in more an Italian than an Egyptian setting. Here is a little shrine that was set up in the duomo of Monte Porzio:

He is (amongst other things) the protector of animals and patron of breeders [allevatori], which is why a whole menagerie of beasts gathered on the Piazza San Pietro to celebrate the festa, organised by the AIA (Associazione Italiana Allevatori). Here is the tent containing the animals, with San Pietro in the background. Can you spot the friendly face posing for my camera on the extreme right?

Here is a close up:

Now I've seen many things at the Vatican but I never thought I'd bump into a struzzo or ostrich. I wonder if its presence means that the Holy See has commissioned a new set of flabelli (ceremonial fans made from ostrich feathers)? There were also some chaps on horses, making a rather charming sight (a touch of the 'Wild West' on the Via Conciliazione).

You'll be pleased to know that all the animals were blessed by the Archpriest of the Basilica, Cardinal Comastri, after he had celebrated a Mass for the Feast.
NB Why St Anthony and the pig? Some suggest that the pig symbolised the devil, which the saint defeated through his prayer, penances and perseverance; others that it reminds us of the hermit's simplicity and harmony with creation. Moreover the medieval Hospital Brothers of St Anthony (later incorporated into the Knights of Malta) kept pigs, quickly becoming the symbol of their patron.

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