Who knew something celebrated first more than 400 years ago could be so pertinent to our lives in the 21st Century?
The third Sunday of July is Redentore, a celebration of the end of the plague of 1575-1577 which decimated the population of Venice. More than 46,000 or about 25-30% of the population died in this period.
Is any of this sounding familiar to you?
This year, the world can identify with the crisis that struck Venice in 1575. With no modern medicine or scientific research, they understood enough to know that humans passed on the disease so the doctors wore protective cloating and the famous “doctor mask”. The invention of the masks as well as the protective cloak they were is said to have originated in Naples some years early and eventually became used all over Europe. They did not understand about germs, rather thought that it was the “miasma”, bad air which they thought was the cause. The doctors filled the grotesque beak with herbs and spices. The masks below are sold today in the shops in Venice are are certainly not as scary.
Il Redentore (the Redeemer) church was build as a votive (offering) in thanksgiving of the end of the plague. It is a magnificent church designed by Andrea Palladio, the famous architect from Padua, Italy. It was commissioned by la Serenissima, the Republic of Venice and its cornerstones were laid in May of 1577. Construction took some time and it was finished in 1592.
It sits on the islands of Giudecca with a perfect viewing from Piazza San Marco.
Each year since then, the citizens of Venice have celebrated the end of the plague with a solemn procession of the officials of the city (originally the Doge – now the Mayor) walk along with the patriarch of the city over a well constructed pontoon bridge. The bridge is constructed by the city and is open just in time for the long walk across the Giudecca Canal from a location just in back of the Santa Maria delle Salute (across the canal from Piazza San Marco). The bridge has a high section which still allows for the local vaporetti (boats) to pass as you can see in the picture above a vaporetto is just going under the bridge. Larger vessels are not allowed when the bridge is complete. The bridge is promptly removed during the night at the end of the 3rd Sunday and water traffic flows as usual.
‘Til next year, when we sincerely hope the celebration is indeed for the end of our current Virus.