The Feast day of Madonna della Salute, which falls on November 21, is a historic feast of popular devotion.
Even today, the inhabitants of Venice go to the high altar of the church dedicated to the Virgin, after one of the many plagues suffered during the 1500s and 1600s.
Around the middle of the XVII century, northern Italy suffered one of the most serious epidemics of plague that also spread throughout the city of Venice.
The people began to pray and the patriarch Giovanni Tiepolo ordered that from 23 to 30 September 1630 public prayers were held throughout the city, especially in the cathedral of San Pietro di Castello, the patriarchal seat.
On 22 October it was decided that for fifteen Saturdays a procession in honor of the Madonna should be held around St Mark’s Square, carrying an image called “Maria Nicopeja“.
But the plague did not end.
As in the previous century, the Serenissima then made the solemn vow to dedicate to the Madonna a church, called Santa Maria della Salute. In addition, the Senate decided that every year, on the official day of the end of the infection, the doges should go solemnly to visit this church, in memory of the gratitude to Our Lady.
In January 1632, in order to be faithful to the vow made, work began and the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini was asked to sculpt the image of the Madonna.
The work began on 25 March, the day considered the anniversary of the creation of the world, the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the foundation of Venice in 421.
On September 6, 1631, the first foundations were laid according to the project of Baldassare Longhena.
The plague finally ended and 28 November was declared the official day of liberation from the disease.
Alvise Sagredo, the new patriarch of Venice, opened the temple on 9 November 1687 and the date of the feast was definitively moved to 21 November.
Since then, every year a large crowd has been on pilgrimage near the church over the boat bridge built for the occasion on the Grand Canal.
In a mixed atmosphere of sacred and profane, in front of the church and in the nearby fields there is a fair: a great popular festival for children and adults where, next to the votive candles, there are stalls of handicrafts and the typical tastings of cold cuts and cheeses, mulled wine, sweets, colorful balloons and toys.
Traditionally in the houses people prepare a typical dish, the castradina, a special recipe from Montenegro based on smoked meat of mutton castrato, boiled and served at the table with a side of cabbage or savoy.
The tradition thus perpetuates the gratitude of the Venetians for the Dalmatians who, during the long isolation suffered by the city, were the only ones to regularly supply it with mutton castrated and preserved in salt, which thus became the dish of those days.