Festa della Salute

The Festa della Salute, November 21st, Venice
A couple of days ago a temporary bridge was thrown across the Grand Canal in preparation for today's Festa della Salute.

The festa remembers the city's deliverance from a particularly serious attack of the plague, which devastated Venice in the years 1630 and 1631, killing more than a third of the population.
Doge Nicolo Contarini publicly vowed to erect a church in her honour and called on the Virgin Mary to intercede to rid Venice of the disease. When the plague finally lifted the Doge remained true to his pledge and a competition was held to decide who should design the new church. Eleven architects took part and the winner was local boy, Baldassare Longhena. The church, which was named Santa Maria della Salute (St Mary of Health), took fifty years to build, by which time Longhena was dead. 

Each year the Doge and the Senate would mark the ending of the plague by making a ceremonial visit to the church. On the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, which falls on November 21st, a platform was duly created on boats strung across the Grand Canal. The republic may be dead and gone, but the visit remains an integral part of the Venetian's social calendar. In the evening Venetians traditionally celebrate with a dish called la castradina, a stew made up of salted and smoked mutton, savoy cabbage and onion.

This morning I, too, crossed the bridge and joined hundreds of people who were making their way to the church. We first had to run the gauntlet of stalls selling a variety of sweet, sticky things before being accosted by the candle sellers. The lighting of candles, which ranged in price from one to twenty euros, is a traditional part of the festival. I couldn't help thinking how many thousands of euros would, literally, go up in smoke.

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