What is Santa Maria della Salute, Italy?

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute (Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute) is a seventeenth-century Venetian cathedral erected in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for saving the city from a plague that claimed the lives of one-third of its citizens. In memory of the miraculous rescue, the temple was given its name, St. Mary of Health.

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Video: Santa Maria della Salute

History of the cathedral

The government of the Republic of Venice did everything to ensure that the terrible epidemic of 1630-31 would not be repeated. One of the means of prevention was the construction of a grandiose Baroque church in the southern district of the city, Dorsudoro. The project was commissioned to the novice architect Baldassare Longhena. Before that, he had only modernized the ancient Romanesque church of Santa Maria Assunta in Chioggia, a suburb of Venice. Work on the new church lasted 50 years, during the master’s lifetime. In parallel, he built about two dozen magnificent palazzos and churches in the city, but the Church of Santa Maria della Salute remained the pinnacle of his work. The architect had time to see the completion, but the cathedral was consecrated after his death, in 1687. Later, a seminary building was added to the church, where Catholic priests are still educated today.

Present day: The aftermath of the great fire

A nearly catastrophic event occurred most recently in 2010. A fire broke out in a seminary. Firefighters had to pour tons of water to prevent the fire from spreading to the historic building. During the rescue work moisture damaged three paintings by Titian, decorating the cathedral’s plafond: the most serious – “David and Goliath”, not so much – “Abraham and Isaac”, “Cain and Abel”. The restorers had a lot of work to restore the images, but art critics have no claims to the firemen – due to well coordinated actions of the rescue workers the architectural appearance of Santa Maria della Salute has remained intact.

Architectural features of the building

Right from the pier, the wide staircase takes Venetians and visitors to the octagonal temple’s main entrance, designed in the form of a triumphal arch. Above the pediment are statues of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child in her arms, of John the Baptist and of the Archangel Michael. Figures of Old Testament kings and prophets are arranged on the cornices. More modest imitations of triumphal arches line the remaining sides of the octagon. Santa Maria della Salute is topped by a dome 60 m high with the figure of Our Lady on top. A second dome was built over the altar, a smaller copy of the main one.

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Fascinating Facts

A special foundation, typical of Venice, was designed for the new temple. To implement the plan and to ensure the stability of the construction, the builders had to install at least 100,000 wooden piles. In total in the construction are involved about 1 million beams.

Interior of the cathedral

Thanks to the wide arched windows under the dome and on each side of the octagon, the inner space of the basilica is filled with light. Through the rotunda hall with its mosaic floor with a volume effect, visitors pass to the altar, which is crowned by the figure of the Madonna and Child. At her feet a kneeling Venetian woman begs for mercy, and a young angel drives the Plague out of Venice. Under the altar group is the cathedral’s most ancient treasure. It is a Byzantine icon of Our Lady of Mesoponditissa, brought from Crete at the end of the 17th century during another Venetian-Turkish war. According to legend, the author of the work is Evangelist Luke. In total, 25 statues of the finest work are located in the altar area.

In the cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute there are outstanding works of painters of world significance – Titian and Tintoretto, as well as works of other representatives of the Venetian school. The pearl of the collection is Titian’s early work “Saint Mark on his Throne with Saints Cosmas, Damian, Sebastian and Rocco” and works from the 1540s, damaged in a fire, but restored.

Tourist Information

The central rotunda is open to visitors all year round and the altar area in the smaller rotunda and the six side chapels may be closed during church events. The church is open from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., with no afternoon break on Sundays. Organ and vocal concerts are organized according to a special schedule.

Divine Services and Holidays

On weekdays mass begins at 16 o’clock, on Sundays and holidays it is from 11 o’clock. There are no conditions for weddings or baptisms in the cathedral. Every year, since the consecration of the Cathedral in the late 17th century, the faithful have gathered on November 21 to ask the Virgin Mary for mercy for the sick. Both the ecclesiastical and civic authorities of the city participate in the celebration. To accommodate thousands of pilgrims around, from the Doge’s Palace to the promenade in front of the temple lay almost 200-meter pontoon bridge.

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How to get to the cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute

The main entrance to the church is approached by the vaporetto, Venice’s most accessible public transport. Line No. 1 runs here, leading from the pier of P. le Roma, or Santa Chiara, across the Grand Canal to the Lido. The neighboring marinas of this route to Salute are San Marco to the east of the church and Santa Maria del Giglio to the west.

Attractions in the vicinity of the basilica

On the same piece of land to the east of the church in the triangular building of the former customs office is the Art Museum, Punta della Dogana, which hosts themed exhibitions of works by contemporary sculptors and artists. The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is 200 meters to the west and features the best examples of twentieth-century art – works by Picasso, Braque, Dali, Miró, Kandinsky and Chagall.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice

The only city in the world standing on water, Venice enchants its guests with colorful architectural masterpieces. Here every building and structure is a living history. According to statistics, the number of residents in the city built more churches than in any other European corner. This is not surprising, since the Venetians are very pious people. For centuries, the basilicas erected have been the quintessence of wealth and power in the Venetian republic. In the Dorsoduro area, where the waters of the San Marche basin flow into the mouth of the Grand Canal, rises the magnificent domed shrine of the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute. The Basilica is considered one of the main religious symbols of Venice. The temple was built in the best traditions of the Venetian-Baroque style and is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

History of the building of the cathedral

Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

In the 17th century, the population of Venice was attacked by the plague. The medicine of medieval Europe had not yet learned the nature of the microbial bacillus that caused the disease, so Venetians believed that the poisoned air was to blame. The main protective measures against the plague were quarantine camps for ships anchored in the lagoon and masks with long noses. Such methods of protection against infection were purely psychological and had no effect. The terrible pandemic took more than 100,000 lives.

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Many believed that the nightmarish infection was a heavenly punishment sent to punish the Venetians for human sin. Legend has it that the government of the Republic of Venice, out of desperation and despair, made a vow to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was promised that if she helped rid Venice of the terrible disease, a majestic cathedral would be erected in her honor. The result was a miracle – the plague receded. The time has come for the nobility to fulfill its obligations to the heavenly powers.

The Grand Council, headed by Count Nicolo Contarini, held a competition to design the future temple. An outstanding architect of the time – Baldassare Longin – was chosen as the author of the masterpiece. The young architect enthusiastically began the construction of the extraordinary church. He was tasked with building a shrine spacious enough for members of privileged communities, wealthy merchants and ordinary Venetians to worship and pray. The architect’s main idea was that the temple should be topped with a huge dome. It was thus intended to show how the Virgin Mary was protecting Venice from the plague with this hemisphere.

The main problem for the builders was the limited site where the church was to be erected. According to the architect’s plan, the base of the shrine should be in the form of an octagon, to accommodate the largest number of parishioners. The weak soil required additional reinforcement. More than a million wooden piles were installed to stabilize the subsiding soil. Limestone and bricks covered with marble shavings were the main masonry material for the construction of the church. The construction of the church lasted for half a century. The architect Longen did not live to see the official consecration of the basilica. The construction was finally completed at the end of 1681.

Architecture and interior decoration of the cathedral

Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

Santa Maria della Salute is striking for its imposing size and exquisite Baroque architecture. The basilica is separated from the water of the Grand Canal by marble steps of a low staircase. The design of the temple is quite unusual for the traditional architecture of religious Venice. The octagonal building is crowned with a huge copper dome, 60 meters high, which rests on large pillars surrounded by six chapels. From a distance the structure looks very grandiose. During the day the marble shines in the sunlight and at night the walls reflect the waters of the canal. On the south side of the church, an extension has been made, forming an apse, in which the main altar is located. It is crowned by a dome only of a smaller size. Behind a construction two bell towers rise.

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Between the ribs of the polyhedral roof there are 15 arched windows thanks to which the inner volume of the temple is filled with light in the daytime. The facade of the cathedral is decorated with cornices, piers, columns, bas-reliefs and white marble statues. The main entrance to the temple is built in the form of a triumphal arch framed with sculptures of the Virgin Mary, the Archangel Michael, John the Baptist, the Old Testament kings and prophets.

Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

The spacious and light inner hall is decorated with arched ceilings, which are supported by pilasters. The luxurious interior strikes with its grandeur and beauty. The floor is covered with marble tiles forming intricate concentric circles. The main concept of the sanctuary is the rich decoration of the chapels with artistic panels depicting religious subjects, sculptures and columns with bas-reliefs on the platform.

The main religious composition of the cathedral is in the main altar. Here is installed the icon of “Madonna of Salute”, taken out of Crete in 1670 during the war of the Venetian Republic with Turkey. The image is enclosed in a marble frame. Above the icon are small statues, creating a storyline in allegorical form. Venice is symbolized by a young girl who cries out for help to the Madonna with a child in her arms. To their right, an old woman in rags, representing the plague, can be seen running away from the little angel. This sculptural composition was created by the famous master Giusto Lecure in 1674.

Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

The Basilica is fascinated by the abundance of works by the great Venetian painter Vechellio Titian. His amazing paintings on biblical themes adorn the vault of the huge sacristy. These are paintings such as: “Cain and Abel,” “David and Goliath,” and “The Sacrifice of Abraham.” One of his earliest masterpieces, painted in 1510 – St. Mark on the Throne – deserves special attention. The artist artist artistically portrayed a scene of doctors pleading with the Apostle Mark to save saints Roch and Sebastian from the plague, who are the patrons of seriously ill people. The main Titian painting that adorns the shrine is The Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. The painting is located in the main altar.

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The basilica keeps three unique altarpieces by the Neapolitan Luca Giordano: The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Presentation of the Virgin Mary to the Temple. He created these murals according to his own imagination in a fairly short period of time, for which he earned the nickname “Luke, the quick worker”. Tintoretto’s skillful work Marriage at Cana in Galilee is sure to draw the attention of visitors to the temple. The canvas describes a marriage feast based on a gospel story. In the background of the painting, Christ is seated at the head of the table, turning water into wine. The artist brings forward the images of the water carriers who serve the guests.

Interesting facts about Santa Maria della Salute in Venice

For more than three centuries, every year on November 21, a milestone event takes place in Venice. On this day, in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, a solemn service is held to commemorate the miraculous deliverance from the plague and a Mass of thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary for saving her from the deadly pandemic. An amazing spectacle can be seen outside the temple. Gondolas and boats gather in front of the shrine to form a passage through the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco for the procession of pilgrims.

In 2010, a fire broke out in one of the cathedral’s rooms. The fire spread to the main hall. During the firefighters’ rescue efforts, only one painting – “David and Goliath” – was damaged by water. In a short time, the Titian panel was restored.

Where is it and how to get to Santa Maria della Salute

The cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute rises in the district of Dorsoduro. This island of Venice is washed by the waters of the Grand Canal and the basin of the lagoon. The temple is located opposite the district of San Marco. You can get to the cathedral by vaporetto (route 1). Water bus takes tourists directly to the pier at the foot of the marble staircase that leads to the cathedral. You can also reach the basilica on foot. To do this, cross the Grand Canal over the bridge Academica, which connects the islands of San Marco and Dorsoduro. The dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute can be seen from afar from all over the city.

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