On 21 November 2017, Venice will be celebrating, for the 387th time, La Festa della Madonna della Salute. Venetians have always loved this quiet day, usually dark and dedicated to lighting candles at the Basilica. This is much more than just a sort of Thanksgiving Feast ushering in winter and Christmas in the Veneto.
Contrary to the Redentore Feast celebrated in July, now there are no fireworks in town. It’s a quiet feast. You can see Venetians and people from the estuary and mainland arriving in town from the early morning. They walk towards the Basilica on the same paths they have taken ever since anyone can remember. They walk to participate in the dark yet luminous celebration taking place at the Basilica, on that day when Venetians deeply reconnect with their town.
More often than not, 21 November dawns dark, and the Basilica is shrouded in a blanket made from fog. The only lively note is given by the colorful fair, La Fiera della Salute, with food stalls selling sweet treats and street food next to the Basilica.
This article explains the Feast, which is closest to Venetian hearts, by means of a Glossary. Part of it is written in Venetian so you can get acquainted with the expressions you will encounter in Venice these days.
21 November in Venice represents a landmark day. Ever since the year 1630, and there has been no interruption, the Feast was celebrated no matter whether times were peaceful or not. This is a collective holiday for all Venetians, though not an official one in Italy. In the Veneziano, the Regione del Veneto and the surrounding towns in the province of Venice, Treviso, Padua and Rovigo, people take off at least a few hours to join festivities. Spend a little quiet time in their own, local churches to light candles. Or they come to Venice in the first place, joining thousands of Venetians at the festively decorated Basilica.
Now, why is this Feast, or rather Remembrance Day, still so vivid in Venetians’ minds after 387 years?
During the final days of October 1630, the Venetian government and the inhabitants of the city were desperate. Within eight months, 47.000 Venetians had died from the bubonic plague. One third of the population.
Doge Nicolò Contarini and Patriarch Giovanni Tiepolo called the surviving population to participate in a religious procession. Endless sessions of prayers followed, lasting three days and three nights. At the end, the Doge made a solemn promise to the Virgin Mary that Venetians would build a basilica in case the town survived the epidemic. They chose to build the basilica opposite Piazza San Marco for several reasons. One was to make sure that future Governments would always remember the most difficult times of Venetian history. So between 1631 and 1687, the basilica was built on the area adjacent to the Dogana da Mar.
La Festa più sentita dei veneziani: So you can see, this Feast is about the perennial topic of health. And since the floods of 1966, it has gained an additional dimension. The health of their city and Lagoon is a topic Venetians think about constantly in autumn. After all, acqua alta recurs frequently and the alien-sounding sirens wake up people at dawn.
I ceri della Salute: After crossing the floating bridge, which connects Campo Santa Maria del Giglio with Calle San Gregorio, visitors usually stop in Campo San Gregorio, buying one or more white candles, i ceri. But you can also buy them on Campo della Salute, in front of the Basilica.
Vigilia della Festa della Salute: In the evening of 20 November, young Venetians set out for a visit to the Basilica together with the Patriarch. They cross the votive bridge to reach the Basilica della Salute for an evening prayer.