Festa della Salute

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Santa Maria della Salute

In 1630 Venice was ravaged by a terrible bout of the bubonic plague which was spreading across Europe. This time it lasted for two years. Forty six thousand people were said to have died from a population of one hundred and forty thousand; nearly a third of the population.

Doge Nicolò Contarini made a public vow to erect a church called The Salute, asking for the Virgin Mary's divine intervention to rid the city of the plague. On October 22, 1630 the Senate decreed that a new church would be built. Eleven architects took part in the competition to design the church which was won by Baldassarre Longhena. His design perfectly captured the grandiosity and magnificence that the Serenissima wanted: a church that exalted the Holy Virgin and the Venetian Republic at the same time.

It took until the 1680s for the church to be completed. To give thanks for deliverance from the plague, the Senate visited the church every year. The 21st November is known as the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin (Festa della Madonna della Salute) and is still celebrated today in the city. 

Every year a pontoon bridge is built across the Grand Canal to connect the San Marco district to the Salute church.

The bridge of boats

One of the 'boats' hold up the votive bridge.
On the morning of the 21st November the Patriarch of Venice leads a procession of the city's officials from Saint Mark's Square over the bridge to the Salute church and the Patriarch gives a service of thanksgiving in the church. 

Venetians entering the church.

Crowds in the church.

The Patriarch's Sermon
Rowers from around the city parade down the Grand Canal to join in the festivities.

Citizens and visitors then visit the church taking candles to light. There are stalls selling the candles in front of the church.

In the streets behind the church are stalls selling frittelle (doughnuts), balloons, sweets and other food. It can be a crush depending on the time of day.  

 Castradina, a mutton stew, is typically eaten on this day.

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