Hope Floats: La Festa del Redentore

Henriette Negrin, Mariano Fortuny’s wife and partner, standing on the pontoon bridge on the Giudecca canal c. 1920s.

In 1576, Venetian Doge Alvise Mocenigo turned to the heavens to plead for an end to the plague that ravaged the city for over a year. He vowed to build a basilica in thanksgiving should his prayers be answered. In July of 1577, the plague was finally eradicated, but not before claiming 50,000 lives, nearly a third of the city’s population. A promise made was a promise kept, however, and the legendary Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio was commissioned to design what would become one of his masterpieces, the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Church of the Redeemer) on the island of Giudecca. A temporary wooden church was built on the site in a couple of days, and a bridge was floated from the main part of Venice. This temporary connection to the site allowed the population and officials of the Republic to make a pilgrimage to offer thanks.

Every year the Doge and important members of society crossed the canal on the specially constructed pontoon bridge from Zattere to Giudecca to attend the Redeemer’s feast day mass. The tradition of building a temporary floating bridge connecting our island of Giudecca to the central part of Venice continues to this day, every third weekend in July. The festivities begin the evening before the procession with one of the most spectacular fireworks displays over the lagoon. More than just a reminder of sacred promises, gratitude, and relief, the Festa del Redentore also signals the imminent arrival of the annual August holidays, when most European factories close, giving their employees an extended summer vacation.

This year the Festa del Redentore takes on new significance as Venice once again emerges from a plague that shuttered the city for the past year. The city breathes a sigh of relief as it slowly awakes, returning to everyday life on the streets and welcoming visitors from around the world (this time, without cruise ships, thankfully). As the last factory in Venice, Fortuny, like Il Redentore, is a steadfast symbol of the city’s enduring resilience and legacy of art and craft.

The interior of Il Redentore c. 1920s with Fortuny fabrics temporarily installed on the walls.

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