On Thursday 17 January Italy celebrates the feast day of St Anthony Abbot, the patron saint and protector of animals. Each year an open air stable is assembled by the Italian Association of Livestock Farmers (AIA) at Piazza Pio XII in front of St Peter's Square in Vatican City.
This traditional exhibition of animals, which includes cows, sheep, goats and hens, takes place from 09.00 until 16.00, and pet owners are invited to bring their cats and dogs for a free check-up from veterinarians provided by the farmers' association.
At 10.30 a Mass will be celebrated for the farmers and their families by the Archpriest of St Peter's, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who later imparts a blessing on a procession of 60 horses belonging to the Italian police as well as delegations from towns outside Rome.
The procession is scheduled to take place at around midday and its route goes from Piazza Giovanni XXIII to Piazza Pio XII, along Via della Conciliazione which will be closed from 11.30 to 13.30. The popular event will result in street closures in the immediate area, as well as a number of public bus detours, between 09.30 and 15.00.
In addition to animals and farmers, St Anthony Abbot is the patron saint of basket weavers and grave diggers, and is believed to protect against skin diseases, especially shingles. The saint, who died in Egypt in 356, has always enjoyed a widespread following among Italy's agricultural communities. According to an ancient legend from the Veneto in northern Italy, on the night of 17 January animals acquired the ability to speak. On this night each year, it is said that people were kept away from stables because to hear the animals talk was considered a bad omen.