Mexicans bring their pets to Mass for blessing on the feast day of St Anthony the Abbott.
It's an age-old tradition from colonial times, but it's still faithfully observed every year by Mexico's animal lovers and their beloved pets. Every January 17, Mexicans celebrate the feast day of Saint Anthony the Abbott, known as the protector of animals, by accompanying their favourite animals to Mass for an annual blessing.
And it's not just the pet-owners who dress up in their Sunday best for this special day - the animals too are preened for the occasion, often dressed in special clothing or decorated with flowers or braids in their hair.
One of the country's most long-held traditions, the animal blessing was established by Franciscan friars during colonial times, but the years have seen the numbers who observe it dwindle. Still, dozens of believers flocked to Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral on Tuesday (January 17) with their pets to pray for their health and receive the blessing. Local trader Moises Perez was in attendance, considering it an important moment for a pet that has become very much part of his family.
"We consider her part of the family which is why it makes it very important for me also to bless the animals as she is very faithful and follows us everywhere. When I go out to sell she starts crying and that is why we love her a lot," he explained.
Marta Dominguez is hoping that the blessing will bring her dog health and a long life. "May she have health, may she live for a long time so that she can be with me, may she continue on from the other one that I had for many years," she said.
A special date in the Mexican calendar, January 17 is intended to remind people of the balance between man and nature. It's the feast day of St Anthony the Abbott, who died on this date in the year 356 at 105 years of age. When the Franciscan monks arrived in Mexico during the colonial period, they brought along with them an image of this saint, who had already come to be celebrated as a guardian of animals. Local Mexicans adapted the tradition of venerating this saint, dedicating their farm work in his honor and asking him to bless their animals.
According to Fr Jose Guadalupe De Sotelo, a priest at the Metropolitan Cathedral, it is important to continue celebrating these old traditions, in danger of being lost over time. "It is something very beautiful so that the traditions are not lost. They are very ancient traditions that with the passing of time seem like they are being lost, but we have to keep valuing these traditions from the people," he said.
St Anthony the Abbott was born in Egypt on the banks of the river Nile to a Christian family, and is believed to have lost both his parents, who were very wealthy, at an early age. He then chose to reject the life of luxury his heritage afforded him, giving his riches away to the poor in order to pursue a solitary life of spiritual enlightenment. He is considered the founder of the monastic tradition, garnering a number of disciples in the African desert and setting up monasteries on the banks of the Nile.
He is usually depicted dressed as a monk accompanied by a pig, a dog and a cock, often with the joyful expression for which he was renowned during his lifetime.