Vita Gazette

News from Italy

Festa del Redentore: Venice celebrates its liberation from the Plague

Vita gazette – When we follow the footprints of cities, we rediscover our culture and the steps that make up our identity. The most concrete and beautiful examples of this are the Italian festivals, which continue their ancient traditions. Venice’s “Festa del Redentore”is one of them. It carries the inhabitants and visitors of the city to the 16th century, reminding of the plague as in those days, festivities including religious ceremonies for salvation.

The Festa del Redentore is a Venetian religious celebration that falls every Saturday before the third Sunday of July. The first edition dates back to 20 July 1576 and was established to commemorate the end of the plague that struck the city between 1575 and 1577, becoming the second worst city epidemic after that of 1348. That summer, the black plague descended on Venice as a nightmare, killing everyone it touched. During this period, when the city was struggling with the plague, a third of the population died, about 50 thousand people. On 4 September 1576, the Serenissima decided to erect a church in the name of Christ the Redeemer as an ex voto. The project was entrusted to Andrea Palladio and the first stone of the church was laid on May 3, 1577 and, in the same year, the city was definitively rid of the plague. Thus, that church and that historical moment became a reason for celebration for the Venetians still handed down today. 

In 1577, the year of the first Redeemer, the Venetians set up a bridge of boats that allowed them to reach the Fondamenta della Giudecca, where the church in the name of Christ the Redeemer was rising. It was on this bridge that the first procession of the faithful took place, which is still part of the celebrations today. The votive bridge, which in the past was made up of boats placed side by side, is now built from wooden parts placed side by side and resting on floating supports. Thus it is possible to cross the Giudecca canal on foot starting from the Zattere. This provisional pedestrian crossing is used by most Venetians and tourists to reach the Giudecca island during the Redentore feast days.

Although 445 years have passed since the first edition of the festival, there are many things that have remained the same in the celebrations of the Redeemer. First of all the votive bridge which, even today, is an integral part of the celebrations. Once upon a time people used to go with the decorated boats up to the Fondamenta della Giudecca which was decorated with kiosks that sold traditional foods and drinks and then, the Venetians, moved to the Lido to wait for the arrival of dawn. Even this tradition has remained the same, in fact, many young people, after seeing the fires, move to the beaches of the Lido to party until dawn. On Sunday morning, however, there was the religious procession from the Basilica of San Marco that crossed the canal, on the votive bridge, until it reached the church of the Redentore on Giudecca.

Today, the Feast of the Redeemer maintains most of the traditions of the past. In addition to the votive bridge, inaugurated on the Friday evening before the Saturday of the Redeemer and the procession and Holy Mass, the Feast of the Redeemer is celebrated by the Venetians on the banks of the Giudecca with tables with friends and family or in a boat, decorated for a party. And then there are the traditional Redeemer fires, unmissable, which illuminate the San Marco Basin with lights and colors on the night between Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday, on the other hand, is the day dedicated to Venetian rowing regattas. From gondolas to two-oared pupparini, the crews battle it out in the afternoon of the Sunday following the day of the Redentore in Canale della Giudecca to win the traditional flag of victory.

Also this year a long votive boat bridge was opened to allow pedestrian access to the Church of the Savior across the island through the Giudecca Canal. The boats were decorated with colorful flowers and balloons for the Feast of the Redeemer. The Venetian Patriarch blessed the Church of the Redeemer with a pontoon bridge. The San Marco basin was inhabited by boats, where people waiting for the fireworks ate snacks and dinners, drank and had a lot of fun. The colors, lights and patterns danced on the extraordinary landscape of Marco, Salute and the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The following day religious celebrations took place. The festival concluded with yacht regattas and a competition between local historic boats. The play of light and reflection fascinated, as always, the lucky residents and visitors of the city with the dances between towers, domes and bell towers for two days.

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