ONCE a year, on January 17, a strange crowd gathers on a street in Madrid’s fashionable Chueca district.

For several hours, unusual pilgrims gather at the door of the Church of San Anton, for this is the feast day of the patron saint of animals and the day when priests offer a blessing to the city’s beloved pets.

Some trot along on leads, others are carried in the arms of their owners. Many are decked out in coats, jumpers or are wearing ribbons or neckerchiefs.

All are furred or feathered and are here for a dousing of holy water from the priests.

Then Calle Hortaleza was closed to traffic to make way for larger four-legged animals which came, as they did for Noah’s Ark, two by two.

Canine units of the police force brought their working dogs, ceremonial guards rode in on their steeds.

A mass was held within the church where pets too were welcomed, while outside parishioners lined up to buy specially baked bread rolls for San Anton in packets of three, with one traditionally kept all year alongside a coin to bring health and prosperity.

The festival dates back to the 19th century and is celebrated in different ways across Spain including with a controversial ‘purification’ ceremony that sees horses ridden through flames.


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