One of the iconic visions across the water in Venice is the Salute Church with its gleaming white dome.
Santa Maria della Salute means Saint Mary of Health and this church was built in thanks to the Virgin for the ending of the 1630-1 plague that had killed one-third of the Venetian population. The church was finished in 1687. The design has many homages to the Virgin Mary – the dome represents her crown, the eight sides are the eight points in her star and so on.
The church is situated where the Grand Canal meets the Basin of Saint Mark and a better position could not have been chosen for making this one of the most prominent buildings in the city. Unlike so many churches in this crowded city on islands, Salute can be seen from a great distance away, across the water, and be appreciated in all its glory. Like so much of Venice it is built in white Istrian stone (Istria is now part of Croatia), although the dome is not made of stone to lessen the weight of the building and stop it sinking into the mud.
What is hidden from view – as is the case in many of Venice’s buildings – are the over one million wooden piles driven into the mud to create a platform on which to build the huge church.
Inside the Salute Church is relatively plain compared to many of Venice’s churches. The main feature is natural light. That said, there are still many wonderful artworks. There are paintings by Titian including an altarpiece, ceiling paintings and various other works. Tintoretto gave one of his best paintings to this church, which includes a self-portrait, and the Baroque Altarpiece designed by the architect of the church Baldassare Longhena includes a 12th century Byzantine Madonna and Child brought from Crete. Longhena had won a competition to design the church at the age of only 26.
When the church was finished, city officials held a procession from San Marco across the water to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute on her annual feast day, November 21, the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin. Each year this tradition continues with a bridge of pontoons and boats being assembled for the parade to cross the water. Thousands of Venetians cross to Salute to give thanks at the high altar.
Salute is easily reached by No 1 vaporetto to stop: Salute. Or you can walk from Peggy Guggenheim or Accademia Galleries through the streets of Dorsoduro, although it’s easy – and enjoyable – to get lost while walking in Venice.