If you are planning a trip to Venice in late fall, attending the Festa della Salute should be high on your list. This is an event that is dear to the hearts of all Venetians, and is an important event in this city’s rich history.
When another devastating plague hit Venice in 1630, the Senate appealed directly to the Madonna, begging for her intervention to save Venice. Venetians had already suffered one plague in 1575, and had constructed the Redentore church as a thank you to God for ending it. This time, with another 80,000 citizens already dead, they promised the Virgin Mary a church if she would spare them. And they kept their promise. The architect Baldassare Longhena won the design competition with construction beginning as soon as the plague ended in 1631. The church was consecrated in 1681.
Every year since 1681 the city has held a special festival on November 21 to commemorate the end of that plague.
Venetians make a procession from the St. Mark’s side of the Grand Canal across a votive bridge constructed specially for this occasion. Once at the church, masses are conducted all day, with crowds filing in to light candles, attend mass and say prayers for their health and the health of their family members.
First, comes a walk over the temporary bridge along with family members and friends. Once at the church the next order of business is to purchase candles. Lots of them. There are booths set up all over the front of the church filled with candles of all sizes for sale.
The lighting of the candles is a breathtaking event, which goes on all day and evening.
Back outside the church, it’s a short walk to where vendors have booths set up selling all manner of traditional goodies.
On this special day of remembrance, Venetians prepare a special meal of salted and dried mutton called Castradina. During the plague, the Dalmatians were the only ones who provided Venice with food. They brought what they had on hand, which was mutton. For 18 long months, Venetians survived on this. And still today, to remember those difficult days, Castradina is the specialty of the day.
Festa della Salute on November 21 is one of the least touristy of Venice’s many festivals. Should you be in Venice during this time of the year, make a point to walk over the votive bridge yourself and take part in Festa della Salute.
–Karen Henderson Karen Henderson and her husband Michael moved to Venice in 2008 to escape the rat race of their hectic American careers. Karen blogs about their transition to expat life and their daily adventures in Venice on her blog, The Venice Experience.
Concierge tip: To get an authentic taste of Venice, visit during one of the city’s traditional local celebrations like the Festa della Salute or arrange an exclusive Venetian signature experience like a special dinner in a private palace.