Nov
21

21st NOVEMBER: CELEBRATING THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA DELLA SALUTE

21st NOVEMBER: CELEBRATING THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA DELLA SALUTE
21st NOVEMBER: CELEBRATING THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA DELLA SALUTE

Today, 21st November, Venice is celebrating one of its most historic and beloved festivals – the Feast Day of the Madonna della Salute – or Our Lady of Health. 

The festival’s origins date back to a great plague which raged throughout the city from 1629-30, killing 46,000 people – including the Doge – out of a population of 140,000.  By the autumn of 1630, the Venetians were desperate; medicines and other treatments had proved futile, so they resolved to appeal to heavenly aid. First, the Senate organized a procession that involved 10,000 participants walking incessantly around Piazza San Marco for three days and nights, with torches and votive statues.  Finally, a pronouncement was made that if the city was saved from total devastation, a temple would be built of unparalleled size and beauty, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

In the following week, the progress of the epidemic slowed, and within two weeks it had diminished altogether.  Honouring their promise to the Virgin, the Senate commissioned a young architect named Baldassare Longhena to build the temple, which he designed in the shape of a crown for the Madonna. 

When the building was consecrated on 21st November 1687, a bridge of boats was constructed, so that the population could reach it from the city centre.  Ever since, on 21st November, a city-wide holiday has been held, and a temporary bridge has been built over the Grand Canal – enabling Venetians process to the Basilica, where they celebrate hourly masses and light candles for loved ones. While the atmosphere in the church is solemn and reverential, outside in the surrounding streets, a lively market throngs with families and children, with stands selling toffee apples, candied nuts and traditional Italian biscuits.

It’s a magical occasion, and a truly Venetian tradition, that can be enjoyed by both participants and spectators alike.