The Blessing of the Hounds at Grace Church in Keswick is a tradition that goes back a long way. The religious service—first begun in 8th century France by St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters—has been held every Thanksgiving morning at Grace Church since 1929.
According to author Diana L. Guerrero in the book Blessing of the Animals, “English hunters popularized this ritual and brought the custom to the American colonies in the 17th century.” Grace Church, founded in 1745 when Virginia was an English colony, is said to be the first church in America to institute the service.
The service, which includes bagpipe music, is held prior to the start of a foxhunt by the Keswick Hunt Club. Members of the hunt are attired in full livery and mounted on horses, and surrounded by a pack of foxhounds. The blessing consists of prayers for the protection of the hounds and hunters, and thanks for the harvest. Guerrero writes that the rector prays “for the horses to be surefooted, the hounds to be swift and disciplined, and the foxes to be fleet of foot and elusive.” The service has attracted more than 1,000 spectators, and after it is over many stay and watch the start of the hunt.