Saint Mary of Health was built in 1630, an offering of thanks to the Virgin Mary for bringing an end to an outbreak of plague that killed nine out of ten of the city’s population, including the Doge and most of the Aristocracy. The massive white marble church, by architect Baldassare Longhena, commands the entrance to the Grand Canal, and its high domes both mimic those of San Marco across the water and suggest the Madonna’s crown.
A suitably impressive collection of paintings hang in the round, marble interior, including works by Tintoretto and Titian. The Virgin is honored on the high altar with a Byzantine icon and a wonderfully dramatic marble sculptural group.
November 21st is the feast of the Salute, when Venetians still come to give thanks and pray for good health. On this day, the Church displays treasures rarely seen the rest of the year. Gold antependiums are exposed on each side altar, some decorated with hundreds of ancient precious stones and jewels. Also, the Madonna Nicopeia, Venice’s most important icon, said to be painted by St Luke, is on display.