– Maria Kwak*
Luigi Brugnaro, Mayor of Venice since 2015, consecrated Venice to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the Basilica of Our Lady of Health (Italian: Santa Maria della Salute) on March 13. Attired with his tricolor sash representing Italy’s national colours. Brugnaro led the prayer written by the Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia on March 8 especially for this occasion.
“Most Holy Redeemer, through the intercession of Our Lady of Health, Your and our most tender Mother, grant us to grow in Your love; everything else will be a simple consequence,” it began.
The mayor concluded the prayer seeking the Blessed Virgin’s intercession amid the COVID-19, “Our Lady of Health, we consecrate the city of Venice and our Veneto lands to Your Immaculate Heart.”
The basilica was built as a votive offering for the city’s deliverance from the plague in the 17th century. The basilica had its groundbreaking in 1631. In the summer of 1630, the Italian plague epidemic broke out amid the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in Europe. It took nearly one third of the city’s population. When German and French troops from the north reached Mantova, which sits between Milan and Venice, Venetian troops contracted the disease, further spreading it into northern and central Italy. Also known as the Great Plague of Milan, it was one of the most devastating epidemics in the history of Europe. The epidemic outbreak was also depicted in Manzoni’s historical novel The Betrothed.
The most distinctive feature of the temple dedicated to Our Lady is the crown-like octagonal shape. Its elegant exterior was a repeated theme of the watercolours made by an American expatriate painter, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). The church is in fact full of Marian symbolism. The unique concept of design is recorded by its Venetian architect, Baldassare Longhena (1598-1682): “I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the … shape of a crown.”
The architect not only drafted the church building but was passionate enough to design the high altar arrangement. It houses a remarkable Byzantine Madonna and Child, known as Panagia Mesopantitissa (Greek: Madonna the Mediator). This iconic image came to Venice after the fall of Candia to the Ottomans in 1669. Above the icon, stands the Queen of Heaven expelling the Plague by the Flemish sculptor, Josse de Corte (1627–1679).
The Venetian Mayor’s devotion to the church has been well-acclaimed publicly in the past. A short announcement on his Twitter account reminds us of the community values in our faith. “Renewing the vow made by the Serenissima, this morning I entrusted myself, the City of Venice and the whole of Italy to Santa Maria della Salute. In such a difficult period for our communities we must have faith: together, all united, we will return stronger than before.” (Photo Rorate Caeli website)
*MA Candidate in History at USJ