The world was struck by numerous plague epidemics from the Bronze Age to the late 19th century costing the lives of millions of people. Venice wasn’t spared either. The longest plague epidemic hitting the trading town lasted from 1575 to 1577. The Senate of the Republic of Venice vowed to build a church once Venice was freed from the plague. The construction of Il Redentore also marked the start of the annual festivities held in honour of the Redeemer, which have since been taking place every third weekend in July and absolutely need to be part of your holiday planning. La Festa del Redentore in Venice is probably one of Italy’s most beautiful events.
The big plague epidemic from 1575 to 1577
Being a centre of trade with wide open trade routes and lots of international transit, Venice’s harbour didn’t just see all sorts of goods transported in and out, but also many viruses coming in. You’ll hardly be surprised to learn that multiple severe plague epidemics struck the city over the course of the centuries. The gravest epidemic started in 1575 and lasted well into the spring of 1577. Estimations amount to close to 50,000 plague fatalities including a very geriatric Titian, the most important member of the Venetian school, right before he could finish a Pietà for his sepulchral chapel inside the Gothic-style Franciscan church Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
Church constructions and initial festivities
Eventually, on 4 September 1576, the Senate of the Republic of Venice vowed to build a church once the city had finally gotten rid of the plague. which is exactly what happened. The construction of Il Redentore on the island Giudecca under the direction of Andrea Palladio began the following spring. Only a few weeks later, the plague started to fade away. However, it took until 1592 for the church to be finished – by Antonio da Ponte, as Palladio had passed on in 1580 – and dedicated to the Redeemer. Pioneers already built the first temporary bridge to the island of Giudecca in 1577, the year the church was being planned and constructed, starting a custom that would eventually lay the foundation for La Festa del Redentore.
Venice saw severe waves of plague even after the construction of Il Redentore. Two particularly devastating epidemics in the years 1630 and 1631 lead to the construction of the baroque church Santa Maria della Salute. The Festa della Madonna della Salute taking place every year on November 21st commemorates the end of the epidemics.
About the church Il Redentore
Clearly, Il Redentore is more than just a church for the Venetians. Andrea Palladio, who, at the time, was also working on the reconstruction of the Benedictine abbey San Giorgio Maggiore, presented two drafts. The Senate rejected the central-plan draft and instead decided on a longitudinal layout, which corresponded more closely with the guidelines of the Council of Trent. Il Redentore’s alignment, front and cupola were arranged in a manner that would create a long-range effect in combination with Palladio’s reconstruction of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The longitudinal building combined with elements of a central-plan layout is widely regarded as the ideal solution of 16th century sacred architecture among experts. Il Redentore isn’t a straightforward basilica, but rather an elongated hall flanked by three chapels each per longitudinal side. Together, the crossing and the nave look like an archetypical central-plan church. At the same time, Palladio mainly used ancient patterns for the front utilising the colossal order of old temples. Inside the church, you come across art of some of the most famous Renaissance painters, such as Tintoretto, Francesco Bassano and Jacopo Palma the Younger.
The Feast of the Redeemer today
La Festa del Redentore, the Feast of the Redeemer, takes place every year on the third weekend of July – 14 to 16 July 2017 this year. Free concerts with religious music traditionally kick off the festivities on Friday. Saturday sees the construction of the 330-metre-long bridge to Il Redentore on the island Giudecca. The blessing by the Patriarch of Venice is followed by the big procession to the island Giudecca and several masses. Dinner with traditional regional savoury dishes is served on richly decorated boats, before the firework lights up the sky at 11.30 pm. Eventually, the gondolas and boats, accompanied by music and song, travel to the Lido, where the sun slowly begins to rise.
The festivities last until Sunday. Beyond various masses and processions, the boat competitions attract many spectators. There are rowing competitions for children, a gondola regatta and the big Regatta del Redentore on the Canal Grande. A mass conducted by the Patriarch on Sunday night caps off the feast.
La Festa del Redentore stands for three of the most beautiful days of the Venetian days – and you mustn’t miss them! Find numerous travel suggestions and the best accommodations for your holiday in Venice on ZAINOO. Start making plans for next July!