Every year on November 21, for nearly four centuries, Venice has celebrated the Festa della Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Health), also called simply Festa della Salute. It is a much-loved event in the city, both by Venetians and by the pilgrims who come from all over the world to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for some miraculous healing. Although it is less famous than the Carnival or the Festa del redentore, it is the most felt by the local community.
The origins of the Festa della Salute date back to the period of the plague (1630-1631). Hopeless, Doge Nicolò Contarini and Patriarch Giovanni Tiepolo organized a prayer procession that gathered all surviving citizens and lasted for three days and nights. The Venetians also made a solemn vow to Our Lady that they would build a temple in her honor if the city survived the epidemic. The construction works began immediately and indeed, within a few weeks, the virulence of the disease diminished until it ceased altogether.
The toll was however dramatic: about 47,000 a quarter of the population, including the doge and patriarch.
The construction of the Basilica lasted more than fifty years and was entrusted to young architect Baldassarre Longhena. From the outside, two domes can be recognized: the larger one represents the Rosary Crown, while the smaller hosts on the top the statue of the Virgin with the staff of Capitana de mar.
The festivities of the Festa della Salute resemble those of the Festa del Redentore. A huge votive bridge is set up from Santa Maria del Giglio to the Salute Church to commemorate the 1631 procession. The celebration begins with the cutting of the ribbon of the bridge, usually around November 18, and ends on November 22, when the bridge is dismantled. Stalls are set up in Campo della Salute and Campo San Gregorio selling candles, sweets and religious items, while all kinds of handicrafts, toys, fritters and candied fruit can be bought in Rio Terà dei Catecumeni.
In addition to the sweets on the stalls around the Basilica, the traditional dish of this festivity is the Castradina – sautéed castrated mutton meat, combined with savoy cabbage. The preparation of this recipe is definitely laborious: after 4 hours of stewing it must sit for half a day. Until a few years ago it was almost impossible to get hold of this type of meat in Venice; only recently has it returned to Venetian butcher’s counters.
At Hostaria Bacanera we look forward to welcoming you and to spend a Venetian-style Festa della Salute together!