I was raised a Catholic. And when I was young, I was seriously into the paraphernalia of the faith—I had several rosaries, a statuette of Mary and three crucifixes. But my most favorite item was a wood hinged-box, like a book with no pages. Inside was a reproduction of a painting of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology, alongside St. Francis’ prayer, which is all about being an instrument of peace, light and joy. Even after I’d left behind my faith and most of its accoutrements, I held onto the prayer.
I count the tradition of animal blessings to mark St. Francis’ feast day, October 4, as one of the better reasons to go to church. My first introduction to the tradition was a raucous blessing of the hounds ceremony on a Westchester farm in the 1980s. The couple dozen foxhounds in attendance barked and howled like true believers. When I lived in New York City, I attended a blessing of the animals at St. John the Divine, where they always pull out the stops. This year the procession featured a camel, a peacock, an emu, an African horned tortoise, a parrot, a goat and plenty of dogs. If you’re interested in attending a blessing with or without your co-pilot, even though the feast day has passed, there are blessings scheduled throughout the autumn.
The idea of animal blessings is, of course, not limited Christians. Most religions have a tradition of animal reverence—even if it is lost in practice. In time for our season of gratitude, Eliza Blanchard has gathered together 27 simple animal blessings and poems (including Hindu and Jewish blessings, a Blackfoot chant and a Sioux prayer) in a collection charmingly illustrated by Joyce Hesselberth. A Child’s Book of Animal Poems and Blessings celebrates the contributions of the spider and the slug alongside the whale and the wolf. A perfect read-aloud selection for kid and canine.