Thursday, November 21, 2019

Venice After the Flood - The Wisdom of The Black Madonna on the Feast of the Madonna of Salute

The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - on the Festa of the Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa - on the Festa della Madonna della Salute in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Feast of the Madonna of Salute is the most Venetian of holidays. This year, the festival holds special significance as Venice rises together as a community after surviving the worst flood in recent memory.

It was as if Mother Nature herself was enraged by the condition that Venice was in and whipped up a ferocious storm, commanding the attention of the entire world. The world responded with concern and solidarity, wrapping Venice in a warm embrace.

Now we give thanks to the Panagia Mesopantitisa -- Madonna the Mediator -- the Black Madonna on the high altar in the Church of Madonna della Salute. Venetians from all over the Veneto arrive in the city to offer their presence and prayers to one of the most beloved and powerful icons in Venice. The Black Madonna pulses with wisdom and spirituality like a direct message from Mother Nature into your heart.

There are many theories as to the origins of Black Madonnas. The one I like the best is that she is the ancient Earth Goddess converted to Christianity.

Let's hope this new appreciation for Venice stays in the hearts of the millions of travelers who visit the city each year, and that they treat her with awe, respect and admiration upon arrival. As a visionary city that has existed for more than 1,500 years inside a lagoon, Venice has much to teach those who wish to learn.

Here is a post I wrote six years ago, in 2013, which will give you some background and history of the festival:

Festa of the Madonna della Salute in Venice

The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - on the Festa della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - Festa della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) During the fifteen years I've lived in Venice, I have rarely missed the Festa of the Madonna della Salute on November 21. Most of the city, and much of the Veneto, makes the trek over the pontoon bridge from Santa Maria del Giglio next to the Hotel Gritti Palace and over to the Church of the Salute on Punta della Dogna to light a candle (or two or three) so that the Beloved Black Madonna will protect our health.

The plague first struck Venice in 1575. Desperate for relief, in 1577 the Venetian Senate decided to build a church in honor of Christ the Redeemer if God would end the plague. That worked (for a while), and the city of Venice has the magnificent Church of Redentore to show for it.

Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer venice blog
Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer
Unfortunately, the plague returned only 55 years later, so Doge Nicolò Contarini and the boys decided to build another church, this time pleading to the Virgin Mary for help. After all, the Republic of Venice was feminine, and under the Madonna's rule -- or so the story goes. On October 22, 1630, Contarini ordained the church be built; the 26-year-old architect Baldassare Longhena won the competition to design it; work started in 1631 and was finished in 1687. Longhena wrote:

Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer venice blog
Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer

"I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the ... shape of a crown."

The centerpiece of the awesome Salute Church is the Panagia Mesopantitisa, a very wise Byzantine Black Madonna, who never fails to fill me with deep emotion. The Panagia Mesopantitisa gets all dolled up for the occasion, and puts on her finest jewels. If we can understand where she comes from, perhaps we can understand why the Venetians built such an impressive church.

Click to continue reading:

Festa of the Madonna della Salute in Venice

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Exploitation of Venice + Anniversary of the Death of Valeria Solesin + Great November 2019 Flood

Piazza San Marco between the floods - November 14, 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Venice is an impossible dream that became physical reality by the collective imagination of enlightened souls. From the salt marshes of a lagoon arose the most beautiful and surreal city mankind has ever created... Magnificent palaces along the Grand Canal... Publishing capital of the world... Center of trade... Merchant ships... Headquarters in a pink fairy-tale palace... All nestled inside a protective lagoon, like the arms of a loving mother who must be defended. 

It is a privilege to live inside Venice together with the phantoms of the past, and with that privilege comes the responsibility to maintain her beauty, culture and well-being.

It is an even greater privilege to visit Venice and witness her impossible beauty, if only for a brief time. Some people see Venice just once in a lifetime -- if ever -- and some people return time and again. Visitors to Venice bear an even greater responsibility to treat the city with respect and admiration. Visiting Venice, no matter how often, is utterly different than actually being a resident of the city, and all the gifts and burdens that come with it. 

Candlelight vigil for Valeria Solesin in Piazza San Marco - November 18, 2015 - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Candlelight vigil for Valeria Solesin in Piazza San Marco - November 18, 2015 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Four years ago today, thousands of citizens of Venice and the Veneto gathered together in Piazza San Marco for a candlelight vigil to honor Valeria Solesin, one of Venice's brightest young stars. Valeria had grown up in Venice, and was a Phd candidate at Sorbonne University when she was killed in the Paris terrorist attacks on Friday the 13th, November 2015.
That poignant evening was a moment of great solidarity when citizens from every walk of life, old and young, rich and poor, male and female, from different political parties, different religions, races and nationalities, came together to illuminate the darkness, holding thousands of candles in thousands of hands.

Since it was a mass gathering, we were warned about the threat of another terrorist attack, but we all went anyway, defying the danger and bonding in love. All differences were put aside and the community united as one. Valeria Solesin represented the best of Venice.

If a woman from a foreign country was present, by chance, at that sacred candlelight vigil, and then later exploited the moment in an attempt to influence the narrative of Venice to promote her own agenda... only an outsider with the darkest moral character could commit such a treachery.  To spread deliberate lies about such a sacred evening is pure evil.

Here is the link to the post I wrote on November 19, 2015:

Candlelight Vigil for Valeria Solesin - Venice Victim of Paris Terrorist Attacks

Piazza San Marco November 2019 flood - Photo: Stefano Mazzola via The Atlantic
Venice has just survived another tragedy after her protective lagoon was consumed by the raging sea, a condition created by climate change and mankind's interference. The flooding affected just about everyone, everywhere, so there was a feeling of community as people cleaned up the damage. There was also anger over MOSES, the flood barrier that was supposed to protect the city, but has been wracked by corruption and is still not functioning after 16 years and billions of euro spent. The system that was supposed to protect the city was utterly useless. 

Venice has the potential to once again become an international showcase of mankind's greatness, a city of cultural, ecological and technological advancements. There is a layer of Venice that already exists at this level, which is being suffocated by mass tourism and selfies, and exploited by social media.

They like to say that Venice belongs to the world. If so, it is the duty of humanity to preserve Venice's knowledge and beauty for future generations. Every single person who visits this impossible city bears a solid responsibility to put the needs of Venice and Venetians above their own interests. The exploitation of Venice must stop.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, November 17, 2019

How is the Banksy Migrant Child Mural holding up after the Venice Flood? (And the Miracle of Church San Giacometto)

Banksy Migrant Child November 16, 2019 Photo by Ed Bulloch for Venetian Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Banksy Migrant Child November 16, 2019 Photo by Ed Bulloch for Venetian Cat -Venice Blog
(Venice, Italy) There have been all sorts of reports about the Banksy Migrant Child mural being submerged during the floods in Venice. Last evening, I stopped by to see what condition the mural was in.

Luckily, Ed Bulloch and his wife and daughter, visitors from the United States, were already there, and Ed had a good camera. I asked him to take some photos for me, and he generously obliged -- thank you, Ed. The family had sought out the mural because the daughter was an art lover, and had tracked it down using Google maps(!), which gave them the general vicinity. But they had found the actual location on their own. The family had some great navigational skills, especially because it was already dark.

The photo was taken about 5:30pm on November 16, 2019, and the mural looks in pretty good shape. We wondered what Banksy had used to preserve it so well. I told them that the Fondaco dei Tesdesci at the foot of the Rialto Bridge had once been decorated with frescoes by Titian and Giorgione. Now a DFS luxury shopping center, it was inaugurated on August 1, 1508 as the headquarters for German merchants. Whipped by the sirocco winds -- the same winds that whipped Venice on Tuesday -- the frescoes only lasted a few decades. Let's hope that the Banksy mural -- and Venice itself -- lasts longer than that.

Here is the original Bansky mural from Banksy's site:

It seems that now there are more exposed bricks beneath the child's knees, but I don't know if that had happened prior to the flood. There is a photo on Alamy taken on September 11, 2019, and it looks like the bricks were already exposed at that time. I can't put that image in this post without paying for it, so click over to Alamy if you would like to see for yourselves.

I originally wrote about the Banksy mural on May 25, 2019, which you can read here:

Banksy Crashes Venice and Improves the Neighborhood

Flooded Acqua Alta Bookstore, Venice - Photo: Emiliano Crespi/ANSA ABC News
As most of the world knows, Venice was hit by its worst flood in 53 years on the night of November 12. In less than one week, there have been three exceptional high tides above 140 cm; on Tuesday the tide peaked at 187 cm (6.14 ft), just under the record of 194 cm (6.36 ft) set in the disaster of 1966. It has been an extreme roller coaster ride, with emotions rising and falling in rhythm with the extreme tides of the lagoon. I have gone from rage to tears, to hope and laughter, and then to confusion and questions, and am now waiting for the dust... er... water to settle.


Many people have asked me what they can do to help. There are lots fund raisers on social media in which you can participate, some more legitimate than others. As usual, there are so-called "experts" who have never lived in Venice -- or even Italy -- trying to grab control of the narrative. I understand that people all over the world want to do something to help. What I would suggest is that unless you are confident about your contribution, just stay Zen and let everyone recover, and then make an informed decision.

Because I am an author, I that feel books, documents and written information are more precious than gold. Reading and culture are necessary for civilized societies to come together and understand each other. So much of our knowledge today is possible because wise thinkers from the past made deliberate efforts to safeguard books and manuscripts.

The fund raiser I will support will go to help restore the book stores and libraries in Venice. It is still being organized because it wants to be completely transparent and accountable -- something that has been difficult to do with all the confusion. People have been spending most of their efforts cleaning up one flood after another, let alone have time to access the damages. So if you are interested in supporting the written word, stay tuned, and I will keep you updated.

Closed Due to Disaster (Thank you, MOSE) Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Closed Due to Disaster (Thank you, MOSE) Photo: Cat Bauer
On Thursday afternoon, between the Extreme High Tides, I went around town to see how everyone was doing. The water had been very democratic, invading everyone, so there was a feeling of comradery as people cleaned up, along with a sense of fury at MOSES, the flood barrier that has been wracked by corruption and still does not function after 16 years and billions of euro. I suggest you read Why Venice is disappearing by Jeff Goodell in the Rolling Stone to get a better understanding.

"But the tragedy of Venice is about more than climate change and the power of rising seas. It’s about how bad engineering, combined with greed and incompetence, can make the climate crisis we are facing so much worse."

Church of San Giacometto interior during Nov. 2019 floods - Photo: Cat Bauer
High & Dry - Church of San Giacometto interior during Nov. 2019 floods - Photo: Cat Bauer
I ended my journey at Rialto, and went into the Church of San Giacometto to say a prayer. San Giacometto is the oldest church in Venice, and it is my favorite, along with the Basilica of San Marco. Tradition says that San Giacometto -- which is a nickname; its official name is San Giacomo di Rialto -- was originally consecrated in 421 A.D., the year Venice was born, right at the very spot where Venice was born at noon on March 25.

I was astonished to find the interior perfectly dry and undamaged! It was really like a miracle. At first I thought my senses were deceiving me. I wondered, how could that be?

It just so happened that the Giuseppe Mazzariol, the President of the Acriconfraternita di S. Cristoforo e della Misiericordia was there to answer my questions. He said that under Doge Marino Grimani, the Venetians had raised the floor in 1601 to counter the acqua alta, which is why it was cozy and dry centuries later.

Just think -- 400 years ago the ancient Venetians were wise enough to prevent one of the worst floods in the history of Venice from damaging the precious church far in the future!!! That is some pretty foreword thinking. If only the current leaders of Venice and Italy had the same wisdom...

So there is something you can do -- if you are in Venice, stop in the Church of San Giacometto and say a prayer. It might be the only hope we have.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Honoring Death in Venice - A Bridge Across the Lagoon

Dante's Barque by Georgy Frangulyan in Venice, Italy - Photo: Cat Bauer
Dante's Barque by Georgy Frangulyan - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) A haunting bronze statue floats in the Venice lagoon between Fondamenta Nuove and the Island of San Michele, where Venice buries her dead. Two figures stand in a boat. The figure in the front seems to challenge his taller companion, looking back at him, face to face, while his outstretched arm points in the opposite direction, toward the Island of the Dead.

"Dante's Barque" was created by the renowned Russian sculptor, Georgy Frangulyan, after he saw the image in a vision. The two figures in the boat are Virgil and Dante, living souls who journey through the underworld in Dante's Divine Comedy. Frangulyan said the island of San Michele "is a point on land from which the path to the other world -- and for certain souls, the way back -- may be traced with some clarity."*

Frangulyan said he remembers going past the Island of San Michele, and he just saw this "thing" -- a vision. "I saw it, and then began to look around -- there were so many people standing there, I thought they'd see it at any moment... sometimes you get this extra-clear image of something, and that's what happened. I understood that this place was the only place for this to happen."

The floating sculpture grew out of a small sketch that Frangulyan drew of his vision back in 1998.  He designed a pontoon system that took into account the risk of flooding, and the danger of the boat going under. He originally planned to have the sculpture complete by 2000, in time for the new millennium, as an event to commemorate the changeover.

However, one cannot simply plop a sculpture into the Venice lagoon, and after making its way through bureaucracy and permissions, it was finally installed in 2007. Some say it is Dante and Virgil crossing the Acheron river, the boundary between the entrance to hell and hell itself, but, if so, I wonder -- where is Charon, the ferryman of Hades?

Bridge to the Island of the Dead, Venice Italy - San Michele cemetery
Bridge to the Island of San Michele - Photo: Cat Bauer
This year, for the first time since 1950, there is a floating bridge that connects Fondamenta Nuove to the Island of San Michele, and until November 3, Venetians and residents have the bridge to themselves since you must have a Venezia Unica card to get across. After that, it is open to the public until November 10.

It was a moving experience to walk across the lagoon and to the cemetery on All Saints Day. I have always felt a deep connection to San Michele, and after having lived in Venice for over two decades, have personal connections to certain tombs. There is special poignancy in tending someone's tomb, but also a kind of comfort and joy. They say the veil between this world and the Otherworld becomes thin at this time of year, allowing spirits to pass through more easily. It is a beautiful celebration and remembrance of those who have gone before, and going across the water by foot instead of by boat made the experience even more meaningful.


The atmosphere on All Saints Day was festive, with thousands of people, old and young, making the journey across the new bridge. In addition to the locals, it seemed like many Venetians had arrived from the mainland, toting flowers and candles to honor the ancestors. It was well organized, with an information booth just inside the entrance equipped with maps detailing where every tomb was located in case you forgot where the nonni were. Around 4pm I asked the girl who was counting the entries with a clicker how many people had come, and she said about 13,000. Finally, a place where Venetians outnumbered the tourists!

There were colorful plastic watering cans around the fountains, brooms and movable ladders with wheels so that all the tombs could be attended to. It may sound strange, but San Michele at this time of year is a cemetery full of life, where the living and the dead truly share the same space and time.

Perhaps, what Georgy Frangulyan said is true: that Venice's Island of the Dead is the one place on land from which the path to the other world -- and for certain souls, the way back -- may be traced with some clarity.

Bridge to the Island of the Dead, Venice Italy - San Michele cemetery
Visiting the ancestors - Photo: Cat Bauer
I just checked, and was surprised to see that I have written about the Island of the Dead at least five times before, starting back in 2010, so if you would like to learn more, just click the links:

The Island of the Dead - Venice, Italy

All Saint's Day and Ludovico De Luigi's Great Day

Island of the Dead - San Michele, Venice - All the Saints and All the Souls

Cat Bauer