The Madonna della Salute, celebrated every year on 21 November, is the festivity which is still a choral expression of the city’s religious spirit.
In 1630, during the great plague that struck northern Italy – the same epidemic also described by Alessandro Manzoni in his historical novel, The Betrothed – the Doge made a solemn vow to build a grand and solemn votive church dedicated to the Virgin, to be named Santa Maria della Salute, Our Lady of Health, designed by Baldassare Longhena. The church was built in Baroque style, with an octagonal plan surmounted by an imposing dome. Its consecration took place on 21 November 1687. The solemn vow involved the construction in perpetuity of a votive bridge to facilitate the access of the devotees in procession from San Marco to invoke the protection of Our Lady of Health.
The bridge of boats, totally made up of wood, originally crosses the Grand Canal from Calle Vallaresso to Punta della Dogana. Following a serious accident in 1815 that killed five people, it was modified to join Santa Maria del Giglio to the Salute. Today the bridge is made of 4 arches plus a bigger one, to allow the transit of larger vessels such as the vaporetti and goods-boats.
The centre of the high altar holds the icon of the Mesopanditissa, installed here in November 1670, brought to Venice from Heraklion in 1670 by Francesco Morosini. It was called Our Lady of Health because Venetians recognized that they had received the gift of health and salvation. The name is connected to the inscription engraved in the circle at the centre of the Basilica: « Unde origo inde salus » (Venice was born from Mary and Mary was the salvation).
Among the typical rituals of the day, in addition to the candles taken into the church during the traditional visit of thanksgiving, there is the habit of eating castradina, a hot and delicious-smelling soup made of dried salted mutton and cabbage leaves, in an atmosphere that combines the sacred and the profane