The Basilica of St. Mary of Health (Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute), commonly known simply as “La Salute”, is one of the largest churches of Venice and it has the status of a minor basilica. It stands in a prominent position at the junction between the Grand Canal and the Bacino di San Marco on the lagoon.
In October 1630, the Venetian Senate decreed that if the city was delivered from the currently raging plague that had killed about a third of Venice’s population, then a new church would be built and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The city was so delivered, and Baldassare Longhena was selected to design the new church. It was consecrated in 1681, the year before Longhena’s death, and completed in 1687.
It is the supreme masterpiece of the Venetian Baroque, this majestic and compact 17th-century baroque jewel proudly reigns at this commercially and aesthetically important point.
On November 21 of each year, city workers lay a pontoon bridge over the Grand Canal from the San Marco district to the Salute church. The huge main doors of the basilica are opened, and Venetians walk across the canal to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary or–at the very least–to tradition. Gondoliers bring their oars to be blessed by a priest who recites his incantations from the church steps.