The Feast day of the “Madonna della Salute”
November 21st is the Feast day of “Madonna della Salute”, probably the least “touristy” of the Venetian festivities that evokes strong religious feelings among the city’s inhabitants.
The festival dates back to 1630 when Venice was under siege from the plague, over 50 years after the terrible plague of 1575-77. In that year Doge Nicolò Contarini vowed to erect a church, asking for the Virgin Mary’s help to rid the city of the plague and almost immediately plague deaths started to reduce, until Venice was finally plague-free in late 1631.
The Doge before succumbing to the plague himself, commissioned the new church to the young architect Baldassare Longhena who designed and created its baroque masterpiece: the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Punta della Dogana, a strip of land between St Mark’s and the Redentore Church. And atop the huge dome, visible from across the lagoon, Longhena erected a statue of the Virgin Mary to guard over the city.
On November 21st this wonderful basilica is reachable from St. Mark’s Square thanks to a temporary votive bridge that allows people to cross the Grand Canal. Venetians worpshippers (and not) use to go there to light a candle, give thanks and pray for good health.
One of the main customs of this festival is to eat a traditonal Venetian mutton-based dish which is only to be found one or two days each year: the “Castradina”.
The Castradina is a tribute to the loyalty of the Dalmatians who, during Venice’s long plague-induced isolation, were the only state to provide Venice with food. However, they could only bring what they had to hand: mutton, which was readily available in that region. And so during those seemingly never-ending eighteen months of isolation the Venetians ate almost nothing else. This is why, in memory of that trying time, the tradition of eating castradina during the “Festa della Salute” is maintained to this day.
If you’re considering travel to Venice in November, the Feast day of the “Madonna della Salute” should definitely be on your list of things to do!