Blessing of the Animals: a Look Back in Time

As the annual Interfaith Blessing of the Animals approaches, we at the NSLM find ourselves drawn once again to the tradition’s beginnings as well as seeking out artistic and archival examples in our collections. 

Within the NSLM’s own holdings exist several examples of Blessing the Animals imagery, with the Patricia W. MacVeagh Photo Collection boasting a particularly wonderful set. During life, MacVeagh (1929-2014) fused her love of horses and photography together. This zest for capturing sporting life culminated in a massive photography portfolio of 17,000 images, for which the NSLM has become the repository as well as becoming committed to digitizing all of MacVeagh’s photographs on  

A wonderful thing about working with the MacVeagh Photo Collection is that every photo was meticulously documented by MacVeagh. For almost every image the rider’s name, the horse’s name, the date, and the location are all known. This elimination of guesswork allows for the archive to be an excellent portal into the past.  

A handful of photographs MacVeagh labeled as “blessing” images. MacVeagh took these photos (three in color and two in black and white) on November 21, 1971 in New, Melle, Missouri at the Bridlespur Hunt. Knowing that they are blessing images, the fun comes in to trying to locate the pastor in the photo. Upon recognizing him, our wonderment extends to the way in which the MFH and the Huntsmen are keeping the hounds in a controlled orbit near the pastor administering the blessing. 

While the ceremonies in MacVeagh’s photographs take place in late November, the Interfaith Blessing of the Animals that takes place at the NSLM is scheduled near the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, one of the most cherished figures in Christianity. 

Guillaume Le Rouge (French, active 1493-1517), Folio 106v: St. Francis of Assisi from Printed Book of Hours, 1510. Parchment. The Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 2009.276.106.b 

Born circa 1182, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, also known as Francesco, grew up in Assisi Italy, surrounded by wealth and extravagance afforded by his merchant father. While he enjoyed this life, a brief stint as a soldier and a bout of sickness would influence him to reject that life and devote his time to penitence in poverty. Francis would wander the hills of Italy, restoring ruined churches, nursing the sick, and practicing his faith. It wasn’t long until he would attract a group of followers, or disciples, that would become known as the Franciscan order [1].  

The ideology that St Francis preached can be summed up in this way… 

“He gathered the small worms out of the way because they should not be trodden with the feet of them that passed by. He commanded in winter to give honey unto bees, that they should not perish for hunger. He called all beasts his brethren. He was replenished of marvelous joy for the love of his Creator. He beheld the sun, the moon, and the stars, and summoned them to the love of their Maker.”

Jacobus de Voragine, 1481 pg 32

St Francis believed that human beings were only one of many of God’s beloved creatures and should act as stewards for the earth’s ecosystems. The care, love, and respect that he demonstrated towards all of the earth’s creatures form the foundation of the Blessing of the Animals event that we celebrate here at the NSLM on the first Sunday of October in partnership with the Emmanuel Episcopal Church. 

This tradition is celebrated amongst many Christian denominations and roots back to this cherished figure. However, the practice of blessing animals spans across religions and spiritual traditions which is why participants of all faiths are encouraged to join and ministers from multiple faith communities lead the blessing ceremonies.  

The NSLM joined this deep-rooted tradition in 2018, collaborating with the Emmanuel Episcopal Church who have been practicing this tradition for over 20 years. All manner of beloved creatures have joined the ceremony from dogs, cats, and horses to fish, gerbils, and teddy bears.

We look forward to seeing many familiar faces at this year’s Blessing of the Animals event on October 2nd at 2pm. To learn more details about this event, please visit the event’s webpage on the NSLM website HERE or email


[1] Brady, I. Charles and Cunningham, . Lawrence. “St. Francis of Assisi.” Encyclopedia Britannica, September 29, 2021. 

[2] de Voragine, Jacobus (1481) The Golden Legend: Lives of the Saints. Reprint: Cambridge University Press, 1914, pp. 224 – 236 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s