The Festival of La Salute (Festa della Madonna della Salute) takes place on the 21st of November and celebrates one of the most important religious festivals in Venice. It commemorates the miraculous end of the catastrophic plague of 1631 and takes place at the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute, a substantial Baroque edifice which was completed in 1687 by the architect Longhena to mark the occasion. This is one of the city’s best loved churches located at the eastern tip of Dorsoduro, with the huge bulk of its dome visible from the waterfront at San Marco.
No medicines existed to halt this particular bubonic plague and a third of the city’s population died, but it is said that instead it was a votive procession by most of the remaining citizens that had the desired effect and the reigning Doge honoured an oath to build a beautiful church in gratitude to the Virgin. Since that time, on the same day every year, an almost continuous procession of Venetians has moved from the Piazza San Marco area to the La Salute using a temporary pontoon bridge constructed over the Grand Canal from Santa Maria del Giglio. Once over the bridge there are stalls selling candles and other religious paraphernalia and gradually throughout the day thousands enter the church to light these candles as a reminder of the procession made for three days and nights nearly 400 years ago as well as in prayer for good health in the future. Once all thoughts of plague have been banished, the festivities continue behind in the Campo della Salute which is taken over by stalls selling frittelle (pastries), candyfloss, torrone (nougat) and toys. Afterwards most Venetians head home for the traditional dish of castradina (stewed mutton with polenta).
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