Animals in church history?

Didn’t know what other topic to put this under.

I was going to write a short blog somewhere (for fun, not homework) about the Church’s use of animals in religious practices but I’m having a hard time finding anything. The only results that pop up on Google are about animal cruelty, which is not what I’m after. Anyone have anything helpful to offer? Do you know of any such practices involving animals?

And one story much less nice:


Thank you!!! This will help me a lot!!

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I seem to remember something about Our Lord and pigs but I don’t think it went well for the pigs.

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I always felt bad for those pigs


St. Philip Neri, who had a beloved cat, would make his penitents take care of the cat or carry her around Rome for penance. The cat became very well-known and popular in Rome.


Look at the life of St Hubertus

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Maybe you’d be interested on the “blessing of the lambs” practice. Which is done to commemorate St. Agnes’ feast day. (Yes, they bless actual lambs carried on a basket.)

I’ve also known about the practice wherein preists (maybe just on some areas) would travel the procession on Palm sunday in horseback. routing until the Church is reached.

And the blessing of pets on St. Francis’ feast day.

These are just the ones that I personally know.
I’m sure there would a plenty of these scattered on different Catholic cultures worldwide.

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Since the early 18th century, monks living in the snowy, dangerous St. Bernard Pass—a route through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland—kept the canines to help them on their rescue missions after bad snowstorms. Over a span of nearly 200 years, about 2,000 people, from lost children to Napoleon’s soldiers, were rescued because of the heroic dogs’ uncanny sense of direction and resistance to cold. Since then, and through much crossbreeding, the canines have become the domestic St. Bernard dogs commonly seen in households today.

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Once read a story about St Brigid of Kildare taming a fox to save a man’s life. The man had killed a fox, not knowing it was the pet of the king. The king would only spare the man’s life if the trained vulpine was replaced.

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Shepherds mass anyone? Yup, real sheep in church. Don’t miss the lamb in the manger. (Just below the man with the light colored coat) Done every year in Spain I believe.

Dominus vobiscum


There have been many notable usage of animal symbolism throughout Church history. Both St. Cuthbert and St. Francis of Assisi preached to birds when the local populace ignored them. St Roch is always pictured with a dog because the dog brought him food when he was afflicted with leprosy. The Pelican was one of the earliest representations of Christ because it was believed that a father pelican, when food was scarce, pierced its own breast with its beak and allowed its chicks to drink of its blood. Another early animal symbol for Christ was the Lamb, coming directly from the book of Revelation. In this case, the lamb was the physical and spiritual sacrifice of the Temple. When the lamb was slaughtered at Passover, the lamb’s blood was what saved the Jewish population in Egypt from the Angel of Death. In this case, it was’s Christ’s blood and sacrifice at Passover which offered mankind salvation from death.

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I feel sorry for the swine herder…


I like to think Jesus compensated him for his loss of swine.


Fr Spirago (in the “The Catechism Explained”) discusses the various benefits of animals to mankind:

The benefits we derive from the animals are these: They supply us with what is essential to life, e.g., food, clothing, etc.; they help us in our work, they cheer us by their amusing ways, their song, their beauty, etc. Some instruct us by their example; bees, for instance, incite us to industry, storks to filial affection, sheep to the practice of patience, etc. Moreover, they all proclaim the omnipotence, the wisdom, the bounty of their Creator.

Also, in the Old Testament there is the story of Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 6), the story of Balaam and his talking donkey (at Numbers 22:28-35) and the story of Elijah being fed by ravens. (1 Kings 17-2-6)

I also thought there was an order of knights who had the privilege of being able to ride their horses into Church, but the best I could find was the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem who have the privilege of being able to ride their horses in the papal gardens:

I wonder if the Swiss Guards are aware of this arrangement!

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Fr William Saunders (in his work “Celebrating a Merry Catholic Christmas”) discusses animals in relation to the Nativity and Christian life. He said there is a tradition in the Church that the donkey that Jesus rode on Palm Sunday followed him also to Calvary:

The nativity reminds us that there were the animals too. They were part of God’s creation. Sheep were raised for wool, so each was precious. They were also raised for the Temple sacrifices, like those at Passover. Sheep came to adore the Good Shepherd who himself came to gather us into the Church, his flock, and into God’s love. We too must remember that each of us is precious in the eyes of the Lord, and we are a member of the flock, the Catholic Church that our Lord founded upon the apostles.

Sheep were raised for sacrifice, and St. John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. Jesus said, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10:16). Yes, there are those who would like to devour us, as they did the martyrs; nevertheless, we are called to be martyrs, witnesses of the Faith for others. And like the martyrs, we must cast off fear, for Jesus promised to be with us “until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). To be effective witnesses, we need to know and to cherish our Faith, for we cannot share what we do not have.

The little sheep remind us, too, that Jesus came to go after the lost sheep, for sheep easily become distracted and wander for what seems to be greener pastures. At Christmastime especially, we ought to pray for the lost sheep in our own families and look for the graced opportunities to encourage them to return to the flock.

Then there were the ox and the donkey, two traditional parts of our nativity scene. We read in Isaiah that “the ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib” (1:3). This prophecy foretold the new people of God, the Church consisting of both Jews and Gentiles. Also, the ox reminds us of what Jesus said: that we must take his yoke upon your shoulders and learn from him, and that in doing so our souls will find rest, for his yoke is easy and his burden light (see Mt 11:29–30). The yoke was custom made to fit a particular ox, and a pair of oxen were harnessed together for plowing. The ox reminds us that we are called to do his work, but that he will help us along the way.

The donkey was the beast of burden that carried our blessed Mother to Bethlehem and carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A tradition is that the donkey of Palm Sunday followed Jesus to Calvary. As he hung upon the cross, the donkey bowed down. The shadow of the cross left a dark streak from ear to ear and down the back of the donkey, a reminder that Jesus said that we must, each of us, take up our cross and follow him (see Mt 16:24). The ox and the donkey remind us that we are called to serve the Lord and to serve him in others, alleviating the burden of our fellow man, knowing that we are not alone but that he is always with us.

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The actual origin of both the western altar rail and the eastern iconostasis was to keep animals out of the Holy Place. The poor were too poor to risk leaving animals at home, and had to bring them.

In time, it acquired other purposes (and explanations)


Let us all make a joyful…”BAAAAHHHHHHH!!!”…pause ,…noise. I would rather hear a baa than noisy children.
Dominus vobiscum
The sheep would see hosts, consecrated or not as “cookies”! Probably be none left to consecrate. I’ve had a few as pets for 21 years. Lots of fun.

St Anthony preaching to the fish

St Kevin and the bird building a nest in his hand

St Hugh of Lincoln and his pet goose

St Francis and the wolf

Lots of saints have stories involving animals.

St. Giles and the hind.

Dominus vobiscum

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