Saturday, November 22, 2014

Festa della Madonna della Salute: a votive bridge, a cathedral, candles, prayer and delicious mutton soup

A view of the Chiesa della Madonna della Salute from the votive bridge

Yesterday, November 21st, I joined thousands of others who participated in the annual Festa della Madonna della Salute and paid tribute to this most Venetian tradition. A commemoration dating back to 1630 when the Venetians prayed for an end to the Bubonic plague and Nicolò Contarini, Doge of the Republic of Venice, promised that if their prayers were answered he would have a worthy cathedral built. Apparently, mere weeks later their prayers were answered when the spread of the epidemic slowed down, and then ceased a year later. The government kept their word, and contracted Architect Baldassarre Longhena to build the Basilica della Madonna della Salute--the Church of Holy (Saint) Mary of Health, known to be one of the best expressions of Venetian Baroque architecture.
A small section of the many candles lit.

Beginning early in the morning and continuing until late at night, a constant flow of people cross the temporary votive bridge that reaches across the Grand Canal from Campo Santa Maria del Giglio to Calle Lanza and leads them steps away from the church. Candle stands are spread out in the nearby campo and along the waterfront. Thousands of candles, it seems, are purchased and then handed to church volunteers to be lit, one by one. The crowd of worshipers is so thick that it would be impossible for each visitor to light their own. 

Holy masses are continuously held throughout the day and evening. Many come to listen and pray, while others come to admire the extraordinary architecture and be part of this special experience. 
Looking up at the church's main entrance

Outside, the crowd slowly moves through the Dorsoduro neighborhood where the air smells as sweet as the cotton candy, caramel apples, Nutella crepes and cream filled pastry sold from white tented stands; confirming that this is also a festive occasion.

Street festival-Madonna della Salute
Bewitched Apples
La Castradina
However, no celebration of the Madonna della Salute is complete without a warm bowl or plate of Castradina. I’ve been told, and I've read, that this tradition is a tribute to the loyalty shown by the Dalmatians to the Venetian Republic during the very long period when, because of the plague, Venice was isolated from the rest of the world. The Dalmatians were the only ones who supplied the residents with food. And they supplied them with what was on hand: mutton and cabbage. Therefore, the Venetians ate little more than castradina during those eighteen months of the plague. So, to remember those difficult times, Venetians have maintained the tradition of eating castradina during the Salute festivities. I enjoyed mine at a bustling trattoria our family has frequented for generations: Trattoria Alla Rivetta. Mario, the chef, exceeded my expectations. Buonissima!


  1. Great post!
    Thanks for educating me on the Dalmatian connection,
    and for making me, once again, wish I was there.

    1. Thank you, Greg. I, too, find the Dalmatian connection interesting. And you do need to make another trip. Venice is waiting!

  2. Fabulous entry!
    So, castradina is a mutton/cabbage soup?

  3. Thank you, Rosaria.
    Yes, castradina is boiled mutton and cabbage soup or it can be eaten as a dish of boiled mutton and cabbage. It really is quite tasty.

  4. Making my first visit to Venice tomorrow by train from Florence. And I'm from Los Angeles via Oklahoma.

    1. Hello, Dawn.
      How exciting that you'll be experiencing Venice in person for the first time, and what better time than over the holidays. Stop by back my blog and let me know about your experience. Enjoy!

  5. Nice post..keep up the good work of posting good stuffs.