For centuries, Venice was repeatedly beset by devastating onslaughts of the plague. In the month of July 1575, a particularly virulent strain of the disease hit the city. By the time the plague lifted, in the summer of 1577, in the region of 50,000 people had died (roughly a third of the entire population).
In recognition of their salvation, the Venetians immediately commissioned the architect, Andrea Palladio (1508-80), to build the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Church of Christ the Most Holy Redeemer) on the island of the Giudecca. More commonly known as Il Redentore, the church was designed in the classical style and is regarded as one of Palladio's masterpieces.
The design of the façade is based on ancient Roman temples with a giant order of classical columns supporting a pediment. The brightly lit interior takes the form of an aisle-less nave flanked by side chapels. The high altar is the work of Giuseppe Mazza. Beyond the chancel is a semi-circular colonnade, beyond which lies the choir. Palladio died in 1580 and the church was completed in 1592 by Antonio da Ponte.
To commemorate their deliverance from the plague, the annual Festa del Redentore was also instituted. More than five hundred years later, the feast day is still a major part of the Venetian social calendar.
The Festa del Redentore takes place on the third Sunday of July and during the time of the Republic of Venice the Doge and his retinue would proceed to the church via a specially created wooden bridge, which was slung across a chain of boats linking the Giudecca to the Zattere, in the sestiere of Dorsoduro. Nowadays, a steel bridge (known as the Ponte del Redentore) is towed into place for the celebration.
The eve of the feast day, which is known locally as la notte famosissima, is marked by a spectacular display of fireworks. Many Venetians like to watch the display from their comfort of their own boats. Armed with picnic baskets, bottles of wine and plenty of patience, they gather in the Bacino di San Marco from late afternoon onwards. The display doesn't usually start until 23.30.
Blogging about Venice:
its art, history & culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England.
Since 200I I have been living in Italy, where I run private tours of Florence, Rome &