Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
Also simply known as La Salute (literally “The Health”), this basilica is part of Venice’s plague churches and the most recent one of those. Plague churches are a group of temples built to commemorate the ending of the plague and as a votive offering to either the Holy Virgin or Jesus Christ. It’s located in Punta della Dogana in Dorsoduro.
In the 17th century, Venice experienced a major outbreak of the plague – later called the Black Death – which nearly killed a third of the population. At the end of the pestilence’s wave, the Venetians decided to build a huge church as a votive offering to the Virgin of Health. Baroque architect Baldassare Longhena was in charge of the project and its construction began in 1631. Most of the decorations are a direct reference to the plague.
The dome of the Basilica soon became a landmark in the city, being visible from Piazza San Marco. Many artists, among which Turner, Canaletto and Singer Sargent, represented the dome as part of the city’s skyline.
Today, every 21st November, the Salute holds the Festa della Madonna della Salute. During this celebration, a bridge is built using the boats on the Grand Canal and thousands of pilgrims cross the water and head to the basilica for a Mass service in gratitude for the ending of the plague. This is still today a very evocative celebration among the Venetians.