The Festa della SALUTE
Since 1687 on November 21 a procession walks from St Mark's Square to the church of Santa Maria
della Salute using a temporary wooden bridge specially constructed over the Grand Canal from
Santa Maria del Griglio to Dorsoduro.
The Festa della Salute is probably the least “touristy” of the Venetian festivities and evokes
strong religious feelings among the city’s inhabitants.
The holiday is, like the Redentore, in memory of another bout of pestilence, which lasted
for two years from 1630-31, and the subsequent vow by the Doge to obtain the intercession
of the Virgin Mary.
About 45.000 people died in this plague which constituted one third of Venice's population.
The Senate and Doge Nicolò Contarini decided to resort to the Virgin Mary's intercession.
They prayed for divine intervention and promised to build a church in honour of the Virgin
Mary if God would deliver them from the virulent epidemic.
On November 21 of each year, city workers lay a pontoon bridge over the Grand Canal from the
San Marco district to the Salute church. The bridge substitutes for the ferry service to
Dorsoduro and is mounted on boats, it is 62 meters long, 3.5 meters wide and with a maximum
height of 4.5 meters.
The huge main doors of the basilica are opened, and Venetians walk across the canal to pay
their respects to the Virgin Mary or - at the very least - to tradition and the strong
symbolic tie remaining between the city and the Virgin Mary. Thousands of people go over
to the church every year to light a candle, give thanks for the good health of their family
and friends and pray for the sick. Traditionally gondoliers can also bring their oars to be
blessed by a priest who recites his incantations from the church steps.
The feast of Madonna of the Salute goes on for the full day and the church looks absolutely
radiant with all the candles lit by many thousands of the faithful. There is also a party
atmosphere. Market stalls are all around the Campo della Salute.
Apart from candles of all sizes they also sell lots candies and sweets, frittele veneziana
(fritters stuffed with pine nuts or raisins), toys and coloured balloons making this very
much a family festival. In the evening the main course served in a lot of homes and
restaurants is a traditional dish called castradina - a soup made of dried salted mutton,
cooked several times with cabbage leaves.