In 1630, commercial ships coming from the East brought the plague to Venice or maybe, according to popular belief, it was an ambassador of the Duke of Mantova Carlo I Gonzaga Nevers who came into contact with an unsuspecting carpenter and consequently infected the whole city.
After about two years and 80.000 deaths, Venetians decided to build the church of Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health) as a votive offering for Mary who had freed the city from the pestilence. The city was given a wonderful Baroque masterpiece and a festival, which is still very popular and heartfelt today. This is a well- known story.
However, what if we told you that there were some people, like the residents in Corte Nova in the neighbourhood of Castello, whom the plague spared? That everybody in that area without distinction survived? That what saved them was a sotoportego (covered walkaway)? It was the obligatory walkaway to access the area and guess what? An image of Virgin Mary used to hang on one of the walls, apparently she proved to be as generous and caring for human events as the Black Madonna in the Salute church. What if we added that this sotoportego, feeling not content, saved all the residents from the 1849 and 1855 cholera infections and, because even that wasn’t enough, from the Austrian bombings in 1917/18.
We all know that gratitude is not easy to find in this world and today the Sotoportego of the Plague (or corte Nova, or Zorzi, well, our readers already know that the Venetian place names are just an opinion) is in poor condition. The wooden structure where the four devotional paintings were hanging, which have been restored by Save Venice and are now shown in the near church of San Francesco della Vigna, needs restoring as well as the inscription, which narrates this incredible story.
However, a red stone continues to stand out brightly among the grey trachyte slabs of the pavement under its arch. According to popular belief, it is the place where the plague ceased to be virulent. Moreover, according to the same belief, that stone will bring bad luck to whoever steps on it.
So do not be surprised if you see numerous people who have to cross it every day make clumsy swerves and ridiculous twirls in order to avoid it, trying to keep a low profile at the same time. If you are curious, but superstition embarrasses you, do not worry, you can always say you went there to grasp the genius loci (the spirit of the place).
As Eduardo De Filippo used to say: “believing in superstitions is of the ignorant, but not believing in it brings bad luck”.