Positioned on the narrow Punta della Dogana that lies between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, Santa Maria della Salute is a Roman Catholic church in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice. Construction began in 1631 following a devastating outbreak of the plague and the church was dedicated to Our Lady of Deliverance (“Salute”), with many of its art works referencing the “Black Death”.
Santa Maria della Salute is located at the Bacino di San Marco, with its Baroque architecture visible when approaching Piazza San Marco from the water. This site was selected as it allowed for an easy procession from Piazza San Marco during the Festa della Madonna della Salute, which saw the city’s officials parade to the church in gratitude for deliverance from the plague. This is still a major event and attraction in Venice, taking place on November 21 each year.
Santa Maria della Salute was designed in an octagonal shape by Baldassare Longhena using Istrian stone and marmorino, with a pair of bell towers at the back. A statue of the Virgin Mary is seen at the apex of the pediment, while the facade is decorated with figures of Saint George, the Evangelists and Saint Theodore. The dome of Santa Maria dell Salute has become an iconic landmark in Venice and depicted in the works of artists such as Canaletto, John Singer Sargent and Francesco Guardi.
The interior is also octagonal, with eight radiating chapels and three altars decorated with scenes from the Virgin Mary’s life. It features a Baroque high altar with an iconic Byzantine Madonna and Child that dates to the 12th or 13th centuries, having been brought from Candia (now Heraklion, Crete) in the 17th century when it fell to the Ottomans.