Today was the Festa della Salute.
On this day most Venetians will head down the the Baroque church of Madonna della Salute — Our Lady of Good Health — buy a candle at one of the stands outside, and have the candle lit inside. They will then file through the church, pass behind the altar and exit on a side door on the campo outside.
Around the church there are stands selling food and candy, besides the candles.
The plague of 1630-31
The celebration and the church itself exist to remember the last of the great plague epidemics which devastated Venice from the middle ages onwards.
The plague ravaged the city repeatedly in the 1300s and 1400s, but the Republic of Venice got the scourge more or less under control by inventing the lazzaretti, hospitals and quarantine stations to keep the contagion at bay.
The two lazzaretti were generally effective, but the plague got past the Venetian defences twice, in 1575-77, and in 1630-31.
On both occasions around one third of the population of the city perished.
To redeem the city and its people, the Venetian Republic decided to build a grand church to the Madonna at the start of the Grand Canal. The magnificent Baroque church stood finished in 1687.
Food and candy
The celebration today is a bit more light hearted.
A large part of the attraction is the crowd around the church, where food and candy stands are open until late in the evening.
Another part of the celebration is the traditional ponte di barche, a pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal, from the Campo del Giglio to near the Madonna della Salute church.
In Venice November 21st is a holiday. Each municipality in Italy has a local holiday for their patron saint. In the case of Venice the patron saint is St Mark, whose day is on April 25th, which is national Liberation day. That day, however, is already a national holiday, so that way the Venetians were cheated of a day off work. The holiday for the Festa della Salute is the compensation for April 25th.