The Festa della Sensa, a marriage with the sea.
Desponsamus te, mare. In signum veri perpetuique dominii.*
Venice is a city full of traditions. One of the more famous is the Festa della Sensa (Feast of the Ascension) in which the wedding between the Duke, the former Govenor of the Venetian Republic, and the Sea is represented in the so called Sposalizio del Mare. This tradition was born in the 11th century to celebrate the victory of the slaves and the expansion of the Venetian empire into the Adriatic. Later, Pope Alexander III made the celebration a holy one.
During this symbolic union, the Duke of Venice, made his way to the bow of his official boat, el bucintro, and threw a ring into the lagoon symbolising the consummation of the wedding. The ritual was carried out as a way of appeasing the sea and gaining her favour. Today, the role of the Duke is performed by the city’s politicians who directly after the ceremony attend Mass in St Nicolo’s church, a parade of Gondolas and many other festive events.
In 2013, the Festa della Sensa and the marriage to the sea take place on the 11th and 12th of May.
The Vogalonga of Venice, a famous regatta
Every year, a few short days after the Festa della Sensa the Vogalonga takes place, a much more modern tradition but none the less important. The Vogalonga is a non-competitive regatta which began in 1975, when a group of Venetians, in a protest against the damage caused by use of power boats to the centre of the historic city created the event.
The participants in the Vogalonga meet in front of the Ducal Palace and sing hymns to St Mark before the “race” begins. The regatta, which only allows the participation of row boats, happens over a 30km long course, first crossing the lagoon to Burano Island then returning to the city through the neighbourhoods of Cannaregio and Gran Canal before arriving at St Mark’s Square.
The number of participants in the Vogalonga has grown spectacularly since its inception; today the event draws participants from all over the world, many of them in historical or traditional boats from their countries, such as Chinese Dragon Boats. And the bravest of them swap the oar for swimming…
The Vogalonga 2013 will be on the 19th of May.
If you find yourself in Venice this May you will have the opportunity to experience two of Venice’s best known events.
*We wed thee, sea, in the sign of the true and everlasting Lord