November might not be the best time to visit Venice, but the traditional festival of “Madonna della Salute” takes place exactly during this month, on the 21st.
There are a few festivals during the year that Venetians care about, and this is certainly one of them, together with the Festa della Sensa, in May, the Vogalonga in June, the Redentore Festival in July and the Historical Regatta in September.
The reason why this festival is so important for Venetians is that it dates back to a fact that happened in 1630. A terrible plague – brought to Venice by the Duke of Mantua where the epidemic had already decimated the population – killed thousands of people between 1630 and 1631.
In 1348, Venice suffered another devastating epidemic and, for this reason, in 1423 it was decided to house infected people the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio – one of the minor islands in the Venice lagoon – to protect the rest of the population.
In 1630, the Doge in charge and the Senate decided to organize a procession for the Virgin Mary, asking for her intercession to stop the epidemic and save the city.
In exchange for the Virgin Mary’s help, a huge church would be built: the Basilica della Salute.
For some reason, a few weeks after the procession the plague actually disappeared, and the construction of the church started.
History has it that the church was built where the infection started, at Punta della Dogana, where a woodworker used to live. This woodworker – unfortunately, we don’t know his full name, but just the fact that he was called “the woodworker of San Vito – met the Duke of Mantua on San Clemente island where he was quarantined. The woodworker was on the island to do maintenance work, and the Duke wasn’t supposed to be there but on Lazzaretto Nuovo. As you see, the plague arrived in Venice for a simple but fatal mistake.
Every year, on November 21st, Venetians celebrate the Virgin Mary’s intervention and the end of the plague with a pilgrimage to the Basilica. To facilitate the flow of pilgrims to the church, a bridge of boats is built between Santa Maria del Giglio church and the Basilica della Salute, above the Grand Canal.
For the occasion, along the street leading to the Basilica della Salute from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum – one of the top museums in Venice – many stands offer candies and tasty fritters. Getting closer to the church, you’ll also find many stands where you can buy a candle to light inside the Basilica.
It’s a moving tradition, that still lives inside the heart of every Venetian, so if you would like to participate in the procession and the celebration of the festival, please, do it with respect.