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Quintessential Barrington

Blessings for Man and Beast

A Sunday in the Countryside

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story by Barbara L. Benson

Rev. David Gibbons offers a Blessing of the Animals at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, followed later by the Blessing of the Hounds at Barrington Hills Farm.

The haunting sound of the bagpipes echoed across the meadows of Barrington Hills Farm on a glorious October morning. The lone bagpiper led the stately procession of the Huntsman surrounded by his hounds as they circled in joy, their noses alive to the incense of this day. Behind them, moving at a gentle pace are the riders of the old hunt, now moving into a new era with the Fox River Valley Hound Heritage Foundation.

This day, October 1, they were to come under the benediction of the Reverend David Gibbons, as he offered the annual Blessing of the Hounds. Reverend Gibbons had driven to this bucolic oasis from his own country parish, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Ridge Road. There earlier, outside in the garden behind the church, he had celebrated a communion service for the Blessing of the Animals, held annually in many churches. This day, at St. Mark’s there were dogs young and old, there to receive the laying on of hands, as their human family took the sacrament.

Different saints are the inspiration for these Blessings. St. Hubert, the patron saint of the hunt or chase, was born in the middle of the 7th century, a son of the Duke of Aquitaine. His early life was given over to pleasure, being chiefly the hunt or the chase. In his mid-20s he missed Good Friday service and went off to hunt. Legend has it that during that hunt he had a vision and conversion, which led him to renounce his indolent life for one of service to the poor, giving away his wealth and entering the priesthood. Later appointed the first Bishop of Liege, after his canonization he became patron saint of the hunt and the chase. Now, the Blessing of the Hunt remains one of its oldest traditions.

Of St. Francis of Assisi a similar story is told. Renouncing a privileged life to minister to the sick and poor and their animals, his life is venerated in the town of Assisi and its ancient church. Part of the wording of the Collect for St. Francis of Assisi reads: “Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world, that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy.”

The dogs at St. Mark’s are well-behaved. Perhaps they sense the holy occasion. The Hounds in the field beside the lake, with the acres of sunflowers as backdrop, surround their Master, who has doffed his cap in respect for the Service. Occasionally one bays or sings, their hymn to the day. They are patient, but ready to go and run, the horses are ready to ride with them, and soon, with a final blessing from the Reverend Gibbons, and enjoyment of the proffered stirrup cup, the Master’s horn sounds and he leads the procession along the gravel road towards the fields and woods for a day of exercise and renewal.

Thanks Be to God!

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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.