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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.