Blessing of the Animals

Visitors to Middleburg earlier this month were met with an interesting sight.  On the afternoon of Sunday, October 6th the NSLM partnered with Emmanuel Episcopal Church to host an interfaith Blessing of the Animals event and the community turned out in force to participate. 

Pastor Gil Gibson, Reverend Gail Epes, Rabbi Rose Lyn Jacob, and Reverend Gene LeCouteur. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

Our front lawn was full of people who brought their animal friends to receive blessings offered by Episcopal priests The Reverends Gene LeCouteur and Gail Epes, Pastor Gil Gibson of Aldie Presbyterian Church, and Rabbi Rose Lyn Jacob of Culpeper. 

Horses waiting for their blessings. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

There was a festive feel to the day as people enjoyed mingling with other animal lovers and meeting their pets.  The clergy circulated through the crowd imparting blessings to many dogs, a cat or two, a rabbit, several horses and ponies, and even a parrot. 

Reverend Gene LeCouteur blessing a dog. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

In addition there were several community partners that had tables at the event.  Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, Middleburg Humane Foundation, War Horses at Rose Bower, and Potomac Cairn Terrier Rescue, all shared information about their programs with attendees.  The afternoon was a celebration of the animals in people’s lives and the joy that comes from those relationships.

Reverend Gail Epes blessing a dog. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

Interestingly none of this would have happened but for a rich Italian kid born more than 830 years ago.  Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, later known as Francesco, was born in Assisi, Italy at the end of 1181 or beginning of 1182.  He was the son of a wealthy silk merchant and by all accounts lived a privileged and carefree life, indulging in fine clothing and food, and spending his days listening to singers with his friends.  After a brief career as a soldier Francis began to turn away from his life of material wealth and focused on his religious life.  Eventually he would renounce his former life entirely and would go on to found the Franciscan Order. 

By Andrea Vanni – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11140810

Among his key beliefs was that humans were but one among the creatures created by God.  He called all creatures his brothers and sisters and is said to have preached to the birds which flocked around him transfixed by his voice.  He believed that nature is an integrated system to which humans belong but also steward. 

Saint Francis of Assisi, as he is known today, is one of the most popular Christian saints.  He is the patron saint of animals and of ecology.  His feast day in the Christian calendar is October 4th. Blessing of the Animals services are typically held on the Sunday closest to that date in honor of Saint Francis.  If you missed the event on NSLM’s campus this year, mark you calendars for next year’s celebration and bring your favorite animal companion to the party.

*Fun fact: In 1220 Saint Francis is credited with creating the first nativity scene using real animals.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail.

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