This tribute to the Madonna still plays an important part in the religious life of Catholic Venetians.
If you approach Venice by water, your eye is automatically drawn to the Basilica of St. Mary of Health (Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute), a huge, domed church built on a spit between St. Mark’s Basin and the Grand Canal. The ornate basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and contains religious art, including paintings by Tintoretto and Titian.
The locals call the basilica “La Salute.” It was founded in 1630 as a tribute to the Virgin Mary in an attempt to win her favor so she would free the city from the plague. It took 57 years to complete because the muddy banks made construction challenging. Countless wooden piles were used to stabilize it.
A combination of Istrian stone and marmorino (bricks covered with a plaster made of ground marble and lime), give the church’s eight-sided exterior a polished look. Approach the main façade to see statues of four evangelists, as well as a figure of Mary casting an eye from the top of the pediment.
The design of the building is full of symbolism relating to the Virgin Mary, with the dome representing her crown and the interior her womb. Notice the Byzantine statue of Madonna and Child, representing Mary with Jesus, in the high altar. Look up to see the grand ceiling paintings by Titian. Biblical scenes of David and Goliath and Cain and Abel decorate the domes, while other devotional pieces hang on the walls. See if you can spot Tintoretto’s Marriage at Cana in the Great Sacristy.
If you happen to visit Venice on November 21 consider attending the annual Festa della Madonna della Salute. On this day, thousands of Venetians make their way over to La Salute to ask the Virgin for good health.
Basilica of St. Mary of Health is located on the Grand Canal where it flows into St. Mark’s Basin and is easily reached by vaporette (water bus). The church is open daily. Entry is free, but there is a small charge to enter the sacristy.