The Festa del Redentore (the “Feast of the Redeemer”) takes place in Venice each year on the third Sunday of July.
It has been celebrated every year since 1577.
The Epidemic of 1575-77
Almost one in three Venetians died during the epidemic. Out of a population of estimated 180.000 persons, over 50.000 died.
In the middle of the epidemic, in September 1576, the Venetian Senate decided to build a church on the Giudecca island to the Most Holy Redeemer.
The senate gave the commission to Andrea Palladio, the most important Venetian architect of his age.
The first stone was laid in May 1577, and the Basilica del Redentore was completed in 1592.
The Festa del Redentore
At the end of the epidemic, in July 1577, the Senate decided to institute an annual celebration of the end of the scourge, on the third Sunday of the month.
The main religious element of the feast is a “bridge of boats” (a pontoon bridge using normal boats) which connects Venice to the Basilica del Redentore. The Patriarch of Venice inaugurates the bridge from the steps of the church. Then a procession crosses the bridge, and the Patriarch celebrates solemn masses inside.
On the evening before the religious parts of the celebration, there are huge fireworks displays in the St Mark’s basin adjacent to the Canale Giudecca.
The fireworks became famous across Europe. This part of the Festa del Redentore was known as the notte famossima (the most famous night).
Another element of the celebration is the Regata del Redentore. Races in different types of traditional Venetian rowed boats, in the Canale Giudecca in front of the Basilica del Redentore, are as popular as ever.
By far the most popular part of the celebration are the evening with the fireworks.
Traditionally the Venetians occupied bits of the waterfront with tables. They then had their evening meal with friends and neighbours, while they waited for the fireworks.
Those with access to boats would have dinner in their boats at anchor in the St Mark’s basin.
However, like so many other Venetian events, tourism have taken over the Festa del Redentore. Many locals have retreated from the harbour front to their own alleyway or the local trattoria, often decorated with lights.
The last few years the entire water front has been fenced off. It is partitioned into compartments, and access requires reservation in advance. As such the feast had lost much of its popular appeal.