So says the poet Varagnolo:
…i passa el ponte, i compra la candela,
el santo, el zaletin, la coroncina,
e verso mezzodì l’usanza bela
vol che i vaga a magnar la castradina.
That is: “… they cross the bridge, they buy a candle, / vinsanto, zaeti, bussolai, / and around midday, as tradition wants / they go and eat the castradina”.
The history of the Madonna della Salute
A day dedicated to celebration, traditions and memory for all Venetians, as often as not marked by fog, rain or tidal flooding, November 21st is the Feast of the Madonna della Salute. After the plague of 1630, the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin became one of Venetians’ most heartfelt celebrations: even now it replaces the 25th of April as Patron Saint day, whereas Saint Mark’s Day, the 25th of April, is anyway an official holiday.
After recognising human powerlessness against this disease, the government and people of Venice turned to religion: at that point, the plague of 1630, described in Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed, too, had brought them to their knees. For three days and three nights the survivors went in a never-ending procession around Saint Mark’s Square, carrying torches and votive statues. Heaven heard their pleas and in November 1631, after 16 months and six hundred thousand deaths, the plague came to an end.
In order to keep their vow and to thank God for the grace they had been granted, the Venetians built a fabulously grand basilica between the Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Basin: the Madonna della Salute. «This church, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think of building the church in the shape of a crown», wrote the young architect Baldassarre Longhena. The church was built in around twenty years and consecrated by the Patriarch Alvise Sagredo on November, 21st 1687. This was the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, but from that moment on it became the Festa della Madonna della Salute (“Feast of Our Lady of Health”).
The traditional dish for the Madonna della Salute celebration
The traditional dish for the Madonna della Salute, served in all restaurants, is still the castradina in brodo cole fogie de verza.
By “castradina” Venetians mean salt wether mutton meat, which was imported by the Schiavoni (“Slavs”). One of the first historical mentions of the castradina claims it should be boiled thrice in three days, clearly hinting at the three-days procession that had saved Venice. It was served very hot, with broth, the mutton’s haunch, verze sofegàe (“stewed savoy cabbage”) and a generous addition of cinnamon and pepper.