Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, or the Salute as locals say, is one of the well-known churches in Venice. It proudly stands in the Dorsoduro sestiere and is easy to find on the Venice map. It's also visible when entering St. Mark's Square from the water. The Basilica played a significant part in the history of Venice. In 1630, a massive plague outbreak killed almost a third of the city's population. The officials then built the church to thank the Virgin Mary for ending the epidemic.
Getting to the church
Santa Maria della Salute is on the eastern end of the Dorsoduro neighborhood. The easiest and most comfortable way to reach it is with a vaporetto (a water bus). The closest stop is the Salute. As you arrive, you will almost step into the church as it's only a few meters away. The entrance to the church is free, but there is a fee to see the sacristy and the dome.
History & architecture of Santa Maria della Salute
The construction of the Salute started in 1631 and finished only 50 years later. The building became an exemplary model of Baroque architecture, popular in Europe at the time. Santa Maria della Salute is a white marble church designed by Baldassare Longhena. It dominates the entrance to The Grand Canal, and its gorgeous dome is a crucial part of the Venice skyline. To show gratitude to the Madonna, Longhena created an outer facade referring to the crown of the Virgin Mary. The church's structure reminds us of her as the seafarer's guiding star. The Basilica has an octagonal shape with a large semi-circular dome and six smaller domes. There is also a pair of charming bell towers in the back.
Inside the church
This impressive church has an extensive collection of valuable art. Since it emerged during the dark times of Venice's history, most art references the plague. One artwork to admire is a 12th-century icon of the Madonna of Good Health, located on the high altar. There are also altars near the entrance, decorated with episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The author of these paintings is Luca Giordano. Inside Santa Maria della Salute, visitors can enjoy a few precious works by Titian and Tintoretto. The third altar to the left of the entrance holds Titian's painting, The Descent of The Holy Ghost. One can admire his work on the altarpiece of the sacristy and paintings on the ceilings. Tintoretto also left his mark here with a 1561 painting of the Marriage at Cana.
Feast of the Salute or Festa della Salute
On November 21st, Venetians celebrate the Feast of the Salute (Festa della Salute). Another name for it is the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin. On this day, Venetians give thanks and pray for their health. City officials parade from St. Mark's Square to the Salute, where they attend a special service. The church, linked to the Feast historically, is an integral part of this celebration. On this day, there is a remarkable display of treasures that are otherwise kept throughout the year.
Gilded frontals are displayed on each side altar, decorated with hundreds of precious stones and jewels. Another worthy item on display is the Madonna Nicopeia, the most important icon in Venice. It is said to have been painted by St. Luke. A week before the festival, the city constructs a pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal to access the church. On Feast day, citizens cross the bridge to attend a mass, light candles, and meet with friends.
Things to do in the area
If you look at the Venice map, you'll see that the church isn't located in the central part of Dorsoduro. Yet, by vaporetto, it's only a few minutes from St. Mark's Basilica. It's also not far from other famous churches like Santa Maria dei Carmini or Saint Barnabas. If you're visiting Santa Maria della Salute, check out Punta della Dogana. This museum is an absolute must for fans of modern art. Another fantastic museum, Peggy Guggenheim, is less than five minutes away. With veniceXplorer, you'll learn about the best that this romantic city has to offer.