April 20, 2015

"Q" is for Quarantine

During the Middle Ages bubonic plague – the Black Death –arrived in Europe on returning merchant ships carrying flea-infested rats. The sea-faring republic of Venice was especially vulnerable to epidemics so ships were required to anchor offshore for a period of forty days – quaranta giorni – before they were allowed to dock. This practice is the origin of the word quarantine.

In 1630 Venice was hit hard by a severe epidemic despite the practice of quarantine. In thanks for an end to this devastating plague a new church was built, Santa Maria della Salute (Our Lady of Health). This church is one of four ‘plague churches’ in Venice.

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

The art inside La Salute is all about the plague. A sculpture above the main altar depicts Old Lady Plague being chased away from Lady Venice by an angel sent by the Virgin Mary.

Main Altar, Santa Maria della Salute

Lady Venice (left), the Virgin Mary (centre) and Old Lady Plague (right)

Today the plague can be treated with antibiotics but the Black Death left us with a new word, quarantine, and two annual festivals in Venice. In November the festival of La Salute commemorates the end of the 1630 plague. Another similar festival takes place in July at the Redentore Church on the island of Giudecca.


  1. That church is beautiful. If I ever get back to Venice, I will be sure to visit it.

    1. It is one of the more beautiful churches I've visited.


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