A few days ago a fifth bridge (albeit a temporary one) was thrown across the Grand Canal. The Ponte Votivo, as it is called, was later blessed by the Patriarch of Venice and today it was crowded with people making their way to the church of Santa Maria della Salute. There they lit a candle and prayed for another year of good health.
La Salute, as the church is known locally, is a votive church. In other words, it was built as an act of thanksgiving.
Between 1630 and 1631, the plague raged through Venice killing 46,000 people, almost a third of the population. As a votive offering for the city's deliverance from the disease, the Republic of Venice vowed to build a church to Santa Maria della Salute (Our Lady of Health). It was also agreed that the Senate would visit the church once a year and the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, namely November 21st, was chosen as the day. This decision determined the location of the church, which had to be built near the Palazzo Ducale (the seat of government).
Today's crowds are participating in a ritual which has been going on for hundreds of years. The only difference is that today's bridge is a pontoon; in the past the bridge would have been constructed by tying together a number of boats.
The festa is one of the rare moments when one has access to the beautiful and vast pavement in the centre of the church, which is normally roped off. The centre of the pavement bears an inscription UNDE ORIGO INDE SALUS (whence the origin, thence the salvation) and the date MDCXXXI, the year the plague ended.