Friday, October 4, 2013

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assissi

St. Francis is known by many as the Patron Saint of Animals.  You don't have to be Catholic to relate to St. Francis.  I'm not.  But I find myself praying to him when an animal is in need of comfort or healing.

My memories of this day harken back to New York City, and The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on the upper west side of Manhattan.  This magificient structure is the largest gothic cathedral in the western hemisphere. On the Feast of St. Francis (a/k/a The Blessing of the Animals) the great bronze doors would open and a red carpet would be unfurled down the nave.  Then the procession of the animals would begin with the largest animals (an elephant, then a donkey).  Both the handler companions and the animals wore garlands of fresh flowers.  The Paul Winter Consort played in the background, and the Cathedral Dancers went up and down the aisles.  The procession ended with a handler carrying a white mouse on a small, red velvet cushion.

Many of the hundreds of observers brought their animals to be blessed by the priests, so there was often a cacaphony of sounds in the background, mingled with the music reverberating off the stone walls. This annual occasion remains one of my fondest memories of my home town.  In later years (since animal caretakers had to be deployed to clean up any droppings) they did away with the red carpet.  Alas, that did take away from some of the pomp of the occasion, but I can still see in my mind's eye the carpet unfurling, and the handlers in their beautiful white robes garlanded with flowers, with the great and small creatures with whom we share this wonderful web of life.