The Sagra di Sant'Antonio di Venezia, or Feast of St Anthony, is held every 16 and 17 January in Piazza della Motta. It is here that animals and children are blessed. The festival traditionally starts with a bonfire in front of the two churches in Piazza della Motta on 16 January.
If you want to enjoy the Venetian spirit this is one of the many festivities worth attending. It is a way to admire the joyful way Venetians celebrate their beloved St Anthony. You can also enjoy typical delicacies along Venice's picturesque alleys.
Before the evening bonfire on 16 January, there is a commemorative tradition. The Feast of St Anthony is celebrated, during which two masses are held at Piazza della Motta.
The sparkling Venetian evening provides the backdrop for the bonfire. The fire reminds us of the days when men emigrated to Switzerland and Germany. On their return to their homeland, they would throw their letters written on the other side of the Alps into the fire, asking Saint Anthony to find them a good wife. The women were said to recite the following nursery rhyme: "Sant'Antonio di purscèl / fam. Truva om it a nice / Damel Picula Damel grand / ma mia Damel Stort con le gambe" (Saint Anthony the pig, let me find a man to marry, big or small, but not with crooked legs).
Saint Anthony was an Egyptian hermit who had a pet pig. The Egyptian hermit was revered as the patron saint of domestic animals and as the patron saint of fire, or rather of those who worked in various economic activities. Venetians prayed to St Anthony to obtain the much desired love. Even today, those seeking love are encouraged to attend Mass on St Anthony's Day.
St Anthony's pig, according to tradition, sows chaos and terror among demons. St Anthony is also credited with curing a skin disease known today as 'St Anthony's fire'. According to legend, the Venetians initially believed that St Anthony's soul was destined for hell, as he interceded too often for the forgiveness of sinners. This interceding for the souls of others was perceived by the Venetians as conduct unbecoming a man of faith. Venice with time grew in fame as did the good deeds of St. Anthony in helping sinners. With time St Anthony's good heart succeeded in changing the opinion of the Venetian people.
The Sagra di Sant'Antonio ends on the morning of 17 January with another Mass in one of the churches near Piazza della Motta. At the conclusion of the Mass, visitors can watch as several balloons are released into the Piazza representing blessings for all children and animals. During the Festival of St. Anthony you will see residents bringing their pets to church to have them blessed, including horses.
If you're looking for something off the beaten track, this festival may be the perfect opportunity to experience one of the Venetians' most cherished holidays. This is the only holiday in Venice that celebrates the purity of children and the innocence of animals.