Venice and the Plague

Palladio's church of Il Redentore, Venice

Throughout its long history, the Venetian Republic was repeatedly beset by devastating onslaughts of the plague.

Two of the city’s most famous churches owe their existence to the prevailing belief that an attack of the plague was only brought to an end by divine intervention. 

In the month of July 1575, a particularly virulent strain of the disease hit the city. By the time the plague lifted, in the summer of 1577, almost 50,000 people had died (a third of the entire population.

In recognition of their salvation, the Venetians immediately commissioned the architect, Andrea Palladio, to build the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Christ the Most Holy Redeemer) on the island of the Giudecca. More commonly known as Il Redentore, the church was designed in the classical style and is regarded as one of Palladio's masterpieces. The restraint we see on the outside extends into the interior, marked by white stucco and grey stone. Il Redentore sits on a high plinth and the entrance is reached by climbing fifteen steps. Palladio said that he wanted the 'ascent to be gradual, so that the climbing will bring more devotion.'

To commemorate their deliverance from the plague, the annual Feast of the Redemption was also instituted. It took place on the third Sunday of July when the Doge and his retinue would proceed to the church via a specially created wooden bridge, which was slung across a chain of boats linking the island of the Giudecca to the main part of the district of Dorsoduro. In the evening, the event would be celebrated with a great display of fireworks. More than five hundred years later, the Festa del Redentore is still a major part of the Venetian social calendar.

Palladio's church of Il Redentore, Venice