Where would you expect to see llamas, cows, pigs, turtles, snakes, iguanas, horses, rabbits, goats, geese, donkeys, raptors, sheep, ferrets, dogs and cats walking or being carried down the center aisle of a Gothic cathedral? At St. John the Divine's annual Blessing of the Animals. Unfortunately, I missed this grand daddy celebration - I only became aware of it after its occurrence when told by a friend who correctly assumed this would be something I would not miss and share with readers here.
When New Yorkers decide to embrace something, they pull out all the stops, for an over-the-top, quintessential, nonpareil event. The huge population of the city in tandem with a no-holds barred spirit virtually guarantees this. The old adage applies to New Yorkers quite well - If you're going to do something, you might as well do it right.
Blessing of the Animals honors St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. This is celebrated by many Catholic and Episcopalian churches on the Sunday on or about his feast day, October 4th. Legend has it that St. Francis spoke to birds, tamed a wolf that was terrorizing a small village, and on his deathbed, thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept.
St. John the Divine has been celebrating Blessing of the Animals since 1985. The highlight is the procession of the animals with as many as 4,000 creatures making the journey down the aisle with their owners for a ritual blessing. Every imaginable species is represented. One year, an 8,000 pound elephant from Ringling Brothers Circus made the walk.
I did discover, however, that a local church, the First Presbyterian at 12th Street and Fifth Avenue, was conducting a ceremony on Wednesday the 6th, affording me the opportunity to attend a ceremony for the first time. It was quite a surprise to see our furry friends sharing the pews. The number attending was much smaller, of course, than St. John's extravaganza, but for those attending with their beloved pets, blessings do not come in sizes :)