Saturday, August 3, 2013

San Antonio Abad in Mexico

Many saints have their familiar animal companions, often shown in their portrayals: St. Dominic and San Roque with their dogs, St. Mark and St. Jerome with their lions, St Luke's bull of course, St Francis with the wolf of Gubbio, John the Baptist and his lamb, even the Archangel Raphael holding his fish.  
But St Anthony is the only one with a pig.
St Anthony the Abbot, one of the Augustinian Desert Fathers (San Antonio Abad, or San Antonio Grande as he is often known in Mexico) unlike St Anthony of Padua, the ubiquitous Franciscan, is rarely portrayed in Mexican art, although more so in recent times.
    Legend holds that a wild boar (jabalí) was blinded by hunters and came to St Anthony in his cave, who promptly cured him and kept him as his devoted companion—maybe helping the saint to alleviate the suffering from his Temptations—torments by a variety of demons.
St Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch
Be that as it may, in medieval times, the Augustinian hospitalers (aka Antoninos) developed a treatment that helped ease the devastating effects of ergotism, a then widespread fungal infection of wheat—an affliction also known as St Anthony's Fire because its physical symptoms were thought to mirror the saint's reported afflictions (note a diseased victim cowering in the lower left hand corner of the Matthias Grunewald Isenheim panel)
The Isenheim altarpiece (detail)
This treatment was based on the application of lard, or pig grease.  For this purpose the Antoninos kept swine, which often roamed the streets. By tradition the pigs wore bells, although the bell, which is also associated with St Anthony and the Antoninos, may have been used to summon the swine at feeding time. (in some portrayals the saint is also depicted holding a bell) 
As noted, the saint is seldom portrayed in Mexican art. The few examples feature a black pig rather than a white or cream colored one, reflecting its jabalí origins.
Santa Cruz Acatlan 
The much eroded statue at Santa Cruz Acatlan, in Mexico City, is an early example, although his pig is battered almost beyond recognition.
A newer, much better preserved figure of San Antonio Abad can be seen in the facade of the parish church at Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas, near Salamanca in the state of Guanajuato.
   The hooded saint wears his customary long gray beard and rests upon his traditional Tau shaped staff.
And beside him stands his faithful pig.

Another image can be seen in the grand church of San Andrés at Apaseo El Alto, also in Guanajuato.
   On the lively annual Feast of San Antonio Abad, on 17 January, animals, pets and other livestock, including chickens although rarely pigs, are taken to church to be blessed by the priest.
   And in Spain, the culinary highlight of the fiesta is the Olla de San Anton, a stew containing a variety of porcine ingredients such as bacon, pigs feet, pigs ears and ribs, and morcilla pork sausage—a concoction that may find renewed popularity in the current foodie trend to use every part of the pig (except, of course, for the squeal!)

We welcome details on other Mexican images of San Antonio.

visit our earlier posts on other Mexican images of uncommon saints of interest: 

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry.  
Based in part on information and images from Benjamín Arredondo. 
Gracias Benja! 
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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Just one thing, Apaseo el Alto is also in Guanajuato not in Queretaro.