Autumn - Food - Seasonal Guides

Grateful for Venice: Festa della Salute, 2019

20/11/2019

Until the last minute, it wasn’t sure at all if the ponte votivo – the votive bridge, built for the Venetians to reach their Basilica every year on 21 November, would be ready and waiting for the Venetians in 2019: Venice had suffered three devastating floods within a week, the first reaching level 187 cm, while the last hit the city only on Sunday, 17 November.

Yesterday, protected by an umbrella as humid clouds covered the city again, the Patriarch of Venice opened the bridge at noon. So here is the votive bridge, like every year, only the mindset of the Venetians has changed during the past week. After going through all this, you feel relieved that the water level has returned to where it should be and that your home starts looking better while still wet, after the salt water has been swept away.

You feel relieved that many neighbors and shops are slowly coming back to normal life, some even earlier than announced. These floods caused lasting damage for sure, and for everyone in Venice. Also, the mosaics and pillars of Saint Mark’s Basilica were flooded and are now closely monitored and taken care of.

These floods have done so much damage in the city that for the first time since 22 October 1630, a Patriarch of Venice on Sunday 17 November 2019 invoked the Virgin Mary, like Doge Nicolò Conatrini and Patriarch Giovanni Tiepolo did, to save the City, the Estuary and the Lagoon.

What will happen to Venice in the next few days and weeks, we cannot say as it takes weeks or months to reveal the damage after the water has all dried up. Yet tonight, in less than three hours, Festa della Madonna della Salute will begin.

A few changes to the plan, shorter walks and meeting points nearer to the Basilica, but yet, cookies have been baked for La Fiera della Salute, the traditional Food Fair set up next to the Basilica on Fondamente dei Catecumeni.

If there’s one feast connecting us to our heritage and identity, it’s this one, La Festa della Madonna della Salute, when autumn draws to its end and the city is slowly being decorated for Christmas. This feast isn’t about “Harvest time” but Health, it is a very special Thanksgiving Feast:

Every year, since the Government made this vow on 21 November 1631, here in Venice we’re recalling how the city was saved after fourteen months of a deadly outbreak of the bubonic plague, killing 46,000 Venetians and many more in the Estuary and Lagoon: Almost half the population and one third of the people in Venice had died.

On 21 November, Venetians start their day early: Crossing the Piazza, they walk past San Moisè to where next to the Hotel Gritti Palace, the votive bridge leads us across the Grand Canal. From there, you arrive on Campo San Gregorio and at the Basilica in less than ten minutes. It’s a pilgrimage across Venice, making you think things over quietly or chat with friends or strangers.

The Venetians walk in with white ceri (long candles) in hand, which illuminate the dark Basilica clad in precious red velvet for the day. This is the most loved feast here in Venice, and in 2019, it’s celebrated in an even more conscious way.

Before last week’s flooding, we had prepared an ebook for all of you who cannot witness La Festa della Madonna della Salute, and who would like to know its true story. This booklet has 95 pages, includes a photo walk, all the recipes and takes us back in time, while discovering fascinating stories along the road.

This book is the space into which we packed all the traditional recipes and those for healing food and drinks that the patients on the Lazzaretto islands were given in 1630/31, written up by a medico of the Republic of Venice, Alvise Zen.

For more than 14 months, Alvise had been taking care of the patients on the Lazzaretto islands. In the end, it was five spices that saved Venice and an unusual way of collective aromatherapy which led to total disbelief all over Europe:

In late April 1631, the Venetian Government gave the order that every citizen who was healthy enough to walk, had to leave the house for a few hours at night and breathe in the healing smoke of the pine twigs and herbs burnt on the campi. Three months afterwards, in August 1631, the number of people dying had fallen considerably. Venice was on her way to recovery.

These healing dishes and drinks work wonders: What a difference simple, well-chosen ingredients can make, all the wisdom of our ancestors.

Giving back to Venice: If you would like to see the special stories, please click here to see the ebook. We donate 50 percent of the price to the funding set up by the Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Patriarch, trying to save the mosaics and marble pillars severely damaged by the three floods of last week.

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