Marrying the Sea

La Festa della Sensa, 2014
For hundreds of years, on the Feast of the Ascension, or La Festa della Sensa as it is known in Venetian dialect, the Most Serene Republic celebrated its special relationship with the sea in a ceremony known as Lo Sposalizio del Mare (The Marriage of the Sea). 

The doge and his entourage would be rowed out to the mouth of the Adriatic in the Bucintoro, a splendidly ornate and gilded ceremonial barge, followed by a flotilla of assorted boats. The supreme Head of State would then throw a gold ring into the water, proclaiming, 'Desponsamus te, mare. In signum veri perpetuique dominii' (We espouse thee, O sea, as a sign of true and perpetual dominion).

The ceremony came to an end at the end of the 18th century with the fall of the Republic, but was revived, albeit in a somewhat watered down form, in the 1960s.
Painting of the Bucintoro returning to the Molo on Ascension Day by Canaletto

Although the Feast of the Ascension was on Thursday, La Sensa was being celebrated today. And so this morning I joined a few other spectators at the Punta dell Dogana to watch the boats gather in the Bacino. I think I must have been spoilt by the paintings of Canaletto and Guardi, for I was somewhat disappointed by what I saw, a single 'galley' and fifty or so rowing boats!

The wedding might once have been a full-blown 'church' affair, but today's ceremony had more the feeling of a registry office!