Venice’s Marriage of the Sea – Festa della Sensa 2015

Festa della Sensa – a Venice Festival Which Includes the Marriage of the Sea Ceremony:

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Canaletto’s Bucentaur

The Festa della Sensa (Feast of the Ascension), is a historical and colourful Venice festival that has been captured by many artists. This Ascension Day festival goes back to the days of the Venetian Republic and marks two important events in the city’s history.

Venice was a maritime power in the past and La Sensa celebrations also highlight the city’s close affinity with the sea and the art of rowing – Voga alla Veneta. The festivals of Venice attract millions of visitors to its lagoons every year and the Festa della Sensa is one of these famous festivals.

Festa della Sensa

La Sensa celebrations commemorate two historical events in Venice:

On May 9 in the year 1000, the inhabitants of Venice were saved from the Slavic menace when Doge Pietro II dispatched his fleet to wipe out the Croatians and Narentines who were notorious as pirates. Doge Pietro also made the defeated Narentines to renounce an old tax that the Venetians had been paying since 948. In addition, the Narentines also had to guarantee safe passage of Venetian ships in the Adriatic. The Doge’s conquest of Dalmatia was celebrated as the Festa della Sensa, Ascension Festival.

The second historical event took place in 1177 during the reign of Doge Sebastiano Ziani. The century-long dispute between the Papacy and the Empire was brought to an end when Pope Alexander III and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa signed the peace treaty in Venice.

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Francesco Guardi’s Bucintoro

Marriage of the Sea

To commemorate the conquest of Dalmatia and the maritime dominion of Venice, a Marriage of the Sea (Sposalizio del Mare) ceremony was introduced by Doge Pietro on Ascension Day, being the day that he started his Dalmatian campaign. Led by the Doge’s galley, a solemn procession of boats would sail out of the lagoon, through to the mouth of the Lido. In the water in front of the Chiesa San Nicolò (the patron saint of sailors), a mass was held, asking for protection for sailors and invoking good fortune for the Venetian navy. The tossing of the symbolic gold ring into the water was a later addition to this ceremony.

Since Doge Pietro’s conquest of Dalmatia, the Marriage of the Sea ceremony has been held on Ascension Day each year, with the Doge leading the processing in his state barge – the magnificent Bucintoro being introduced from about 1253.

Festa della Sensa 2015

Today’s Marriage of the Sea ceremony is presided upon by the Mayor of Venice together with civic dignitaries, religious and military representatives.  They lead a colourful procession of decorated boats, which leave from St. Mark’s Square and sail to the Port of San Nicolò where a gold ring is tossed into the sea and a wreath in memory of those lost at sea.  A solemn religious ceremony takes place at the Chiesa San Nicolò del Lido.

Afterwards, visitors can enjoy the Sensa market which takes place in the church grounds and other events, including a gondola regatta which closes the day’s celebrations.

Event: Festa della Sensa
Dates: Sunday, May 17th, 2015
Venue: Venice

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