Festa della Salute, Venice

Venice’s most heartfelt religious celebration, a thanksgiving and annual pilgrimage

History of the festival

The Festa della Salute takes place in Venice on the 21st November every year. Like the Festa del Redentore, the event is a celebration for the end of a historic bout of plague, this one in the seventeenth century. A day of masses takes place at the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, and a temporary votive bridge is set up across the Grand Canal, so that celebrants can cross the water from Giglio to a lane near the Salute.

The Festa della Salute today

This is a very busy day, and is very important to local people. Fur-wrapped and scarf-muffled, they walk through the lanes of Venice towards the bridge and the church, shepherded at times by ‘traffic’ police enforcing one-way routes. In front of the church is an array of little stalls selling candles for the worshippers: it’s evocative to see the solemn Venetians, heirs of traders, shopping around for the best deal. After their stately progress through the church, where masses are said throughout the day, attendees re-emerge with more greeting of friends, to the sound of the ringing church bells.

The next port of call is fifty yards away, in a small campo where more market stalls are set out, these ones of more interest to the children who’ve been brought here by their parents. At these colourful stands, from solemn salesmen in white coats, you can buy sweets, doughnuts, toffee apples, candy floss and all sorts of caramelised fruit on sticks. Balloons are also an important feature for the younger Venetians, and they head happily home with giant helium balloons bobbing above their heads.

This is a religious festival, still taken quite seriously, rather than an excuse for a party like the summer Festa del Redentore. Although it’s not wildly exciting for the visitor, it’s touching to see Venetians treading in the footsteps of their ancestors, pacing out their ritual route, greeting acquaintances and heading to the Salute to pay their respects as they’ve done every year of their lives.

Additional boats are put on for this stretch of the Grand Canal, all stopping at the Salute vaporetto stop; although the stop of Giglio opposite is closed for the day to make way for the bridge.

On this site

Santa Maria della Salute