Madrid - Dogs, cats, rabbits and even turtles, many dressed in their finest, trooped into churches across Spain on Tuesday in search of blessing on Saint Anthony's Day, for the patron saint of animals.
Pet owners lined up around the block of the Church of San Anton in central Madrid behind blue metal barriers to wait for a priest to sprinkle holy water on their animals.
"In the name of San Anton, receive this blessing," the priest, decked out in white robes, said as he blessed the animals presented to him in the doorway of the church.
Many believe the blessing will ensure a long and healthy life for their pets.
Carlos Romero, 56, said he came to the church for the first time this year to have his five-year-old turtle Paula blessed after another turtle he owned named Frodo died eight months ago.
"I came because I want her to be healthy and well so she can accompany me for many more years," he said, holding the turtle in his hands.
Romero had dressed Paula in a sweater in the yellow and red colors of the Spanish flag with the words "Champions of the World" inscriped on it -- a reference to Spain's 2010 World Cup win -- and a large red carnation.
Others dressed their dogs in coats in bright colors or put bows in their fur.
"It is a special day for them, they should be decorated," said 53-year-old Matilde Carballo who brought her white poodle to the church wrapped in a bright pink coat with matching pink ribbons in its hair.
After having their pets blessed each parishioner received three bread rolls, one of which is traditionally kept for a year alongside a coin meant to ensure good health and to guarantee the blessing of the saint.
The buns are baked according to a secret recipe meant to keep them soft.
The church celebrated several masses throughout the day in honor of Saint Anthony which were attended by pets and their owners.
The festival has been celebrated in Madrid largely uninterrupted since the 19th century. It is also held in other parts of Spain such as the Balearic Islands and Burgos.
Animals are said to have been instinctively drawn to Saint Anthony throughout his life. Anthony, who was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195, is often depicted addressing a menagerie of animals attentively listening to his words.
Image: Arturo Rodriguez / via The Commercial Appeal