Set prominently on the water where the Grand Canal merges with the Basin of Bacino di San Marco (the basin or lagoon of the Basilica San Marco), the massive Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (called simply “The Salute” by locals) is dedicated to the Virgin Mary of Health in thanks for delivering Venice from the raging plague of the Black Death. By October of 1630, the disease had killed roughly one third of the city’s population of 150,000 people. Today, this Venice Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute is one of the most well known Venice attractions.
Santa Maria della Salute
The two-domed Santa Maria della Salute is one of the largest churches in the city with the status of a minor basilica—meaning that in the secular world it is an important church, and one honored with special rites by the Pope in the ecclesiastical world. There are Venice hotels in this area. While this location is generally more expensive than other city districts, you can find some cheap accommodations if you look for little pensions in the back alleys, and the Venice Youth Hostel is located two canals away. You have good views of this Venice basilica from the inexpensive hostel, but will need to take into consideration the cost of water transport to reach it.
Basilica di Santa Maria
Once you’ve reached the Santa Maria della Salute from the Youth Hostel, a fairly easy walk along the Grand Canal and over the famous Rialto Bridge will bring you to the signature attraction of the city, St. Mark’s Square and some of the best museums, including the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. If you’re up for a walk, you can reach the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute by walking along the Grand Canal, and then crossing the Rialto Bridge.
The history of the great Venice Basilica begins in 1630 with the Senate promising to build a church to the Virgin if the city was delivered from the plague. By November, the plague was nearly over, probably because of the colder autumn weather killing off the fleas. A little known young architect, Baldassare Longhena, was selected to design the new church. He was only 26 years old in 1631 when the construction began, and 76 years old when it was finally completed in 1681. He died a year later.
One of the special events of the city is held every November 21 to give thanks for the end of the plague. The doors of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute are thrown open. Venetians converge on it from all parts of the city, city officials make a grand procession from St. Mark’s Square, and gondoliers glide up to for their oars to be blessed by the priest on the church steps. While November can be a bit chilly, it is a welcome relief from the sometime sweltering heat of August. So, if you’re deciding when to go, November is an excellent month, with the added bonus of this annual festival.
The Santa Maria della Salute design is based on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Inside are paintings by the masters, Titian and Tintoretto, and a Baroque high altar designed by Longhena. The exterior of the church is made with white marble from Istria and brickwork covered in white marble dust. It is open daily, with the three hour “lunch break,” common in Mediterranean countries. Church admission is free, and there is a nominal fee to enter the sacristy.