17 January is the feast day of Anthony the Great, patron saint of Fornaci di Barga. Let’s find out more about this man, considered one of the most influential hermits in history.

Anthony the Great was born in Egypt around 250 AD; he lived his whole life as a hermit and died in 356 AD. This character is crucial, let’s see why! It seems that the Saint’s remains were found in 561 and were transported through many Egyptian cities before ending up in France during the 11th century. In that century a strange epidemic took place: it was a mysterious infection that to this day has not been defined but seemed to be caused by flour contaminated with claviceps purpurea (a highly toxic fungus). This infection provoked a feeling of burning and for this reason it was called “Holy Fire” or “Saint Anthony’s Fire”. In Italian, the latter expression is used to refer to shingles too, but of course there aren’t any links between the two illnesses except for the burning sensation.

Let’s go back to Anthony the Great: it seems that many people managed to recover by praying close to the Saint’s remains. Because of the burning sensations provoked by that illness and the miraculous recovery we have just referred to, Anthony is one of the protectors of people who work with fire and healers. You will surely ask yourself: wasn’t Anthony the Great the protector of animals? Of course he is! He is known as the patron saint of animals, but this is not his only area of influence. And now you are surely asking yourself what is the connection between this man and animals? Let’s find it out together: pork’s fat was used to cure the Holy Fire and for this reason the Saint was linked to this animal and, by analogy, to every stable animal and pet.

That’s why in Anthony the Great’s symbology animals and fire are always present: 


Nowadays in many towns, including Fornaci di Barga, on 17 January, the feast of Anthony the Great, animals are blessed.

— Written and translated by Margherita Paolinelli


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