Every year, November 21st, on the occasion of “Madonna della Salute” feast, a temporary pontoon bridge from Campo di Santa Maria del Giglio allows people to cross the Grand Canal on foot from St. Mark’s to reach the majestic Salute church. Longhena’s baroque masterpiece, the church was built to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for delivering the city from the plague which decimated the population between 1630 and 1631 (‘Salute’ literally means ‘good health’).
The Salute feast is probably the least touristy and most genuinely ‘Venetian’ of the city’s festivities. From early in the morning, queues form with people from all over the city and islands who come to cross the votive bridge and pay homage to the Madonna. As with all really popular religious festivals, it’s a mixture of the sacred and profane. While inside the basilica the faithful pray and make vows in the glow of thousands of candles, outside, the surrounding streets are full of revellers crowding around the stalls selling sweets and doughnuts, candy floss and roast chestnuts.
A candle for the Madonna and a balloon for the kids, the two sides of this “Madonna della Salute” feast and two symbols of Venetian identity which are passed on from one generation to the next.