Every November 21st in Venice, the Madonna of the Salute’s Festival, or the Feast Day of the Madonna della Salute is celebrated in Venice. Among so many Veneitian festivals, travel to Venice should not exclude this inspiring religious Venice festival which serves up traditional Venetian cuisine to its residents and visitors. So if you’re considering travel to Venice in November, the Madonna of the Salute’s Festival should definitely be on your list of things to do in Venice.
Like a summer-time Venetian festival (Festa del Redentore/Redentore Festival) that commemorates the end of horrific, long-ago plagues, Festa Madonna Salute does so as well, but it takes place during the winter. This particular plague for which the festival is associated originated in the city of Montova in Northern Italy. At the time, Venice and Montova were divided by politics, but they were united by art
In present day, Mantova is a small city and a commune located within the city of Lombardi, Italy, but during the 17th Century, it was necessary to begin demolition of Mantova to combat the spread of the deadly plague from moving to cities such as Venice. Indeed, the city of Mantova diminished rapidly given the quarantine of its population, which quickly led to famine.
In an act of desperation, ambassadors were sent to Venice but were isolated on the uninhabited island of San Servolo. Despite these careful measures, the plague allegedly traveled to Venice via a carpenter who quickly perished, along with his entire family. This soon spread to other Venetians, quickly infecting and killing 100,000 Venetians.
The Doge and most of his family perished, as the disease did not distinguish aristocrats from commoners, nor monks and priests. Medicines and other treatments at the time proved futile, so Venetians turned to their religion. A procession was organized in which 10,000 survivors participated. They walked incessantly around Piazza San Marco for three days and nights, with torches and votive statues.
Finally a pronouncement was made that, if the city escaped total devastation, a temple would be constructed of unparalleled size and beauty. In the following week the progress of the epidemic slowed, and within two weeks it diminished altogether. Gladly adhering to the pronouncement, the location of the temple - or church as it became - was quickly decided upon. It was to be built at the Custom's Port, where some buildings had just been demolished. (Demolishing wooden houses and the dispersing of crowded communities like monasteries and seminaries were emergency measures often carried out during these plagues.)
The edifice was completed in about twenty years, and it became an exemplary model of Baroque architecture which was studied and imitated all over Europe. The church was consecrated on November 21, 1687. It paid homage to the Republic and the Virgin Mary and was called the Salute Church.
Even today, few Venetians miss the opportunity to participate in the Salute, which is marked by a procession. On this day, November 21, a pontoon bridge is linked across the Grand Canal from Campo Santa Maria del Giglio to La Salute. The long procession is led by the Archbishop of Venice to La Salute from San Marco.
Along the way of the procession, food vendors sell cakes and cotton candy, along with candles for pilgrims to light once inside the church. This is followed by the customary Madonna della Salute Venetian dish known as castradina – cabbage and mutton stew – which really does taste quite good. The festival is also popular for children, and there are toys and sweets for sale during the Salute Festival.
Perhaps the popularity of Festa Madonna Salute is due to the tradition that Venetians have followed since childhood, or because health is a never taken for granted by Venetians, but the Salute is appreciated regardless of religion or philosophy, and the procession to the Salute continues from morning to night each November 21.
During your November trip to Venice, you may join in on the procession and experience the ancient ritual up close and personal, or you may observe, beholding the site of Venetians paying tribute to the health that was restored to Venice, Italy. No matter, be certain to enjoy the taste treats and the traditional Venetian dishes during the Feast day of the Madonna della Salute, one of the least-touristy of
all events in Venice.