Festa delle Marie (Mary’s Feast) is a typical Venetian celebration held annually from the 9th century until 1379, when it was canceled. The feast was revived in recent years and is currently taking place during the Carnival of Venice.
In the 9th century, the custom of blessing the girls who were going to get married appeared in Venice. The blessing took place in the Church of San Pietro di Castello and, on this occasion, were chosen the twelve most beautiful girls among the poorest families of the city, who were assigned to a rich Venetian family. The family gave them clothes, jewels and a dowry that they could be married.
In the year 844, during the blessing held in the Church of San Pietro di Castello, a group of Dalmatian pirates kidnapped the girls, also taking possession of their jewelry. The Doge Pietro Tradonico organized the pursuit of the pirates and caught them near Caorle, freeing the girls and recovering their dowry. Returning to Venice, the Doge was welcomed with great enthusiasm, and to thank the Madonna for help, the Feast of the Marie was established.
In those times, the feast lasted for many days, and included civil and religious ceremonies, dancing parties and banquets. The ceremonies culminated with a procession of boats along the Grand Canal, during which the girls showed off their beauty.
Over the years, the initial motivations faded. Starting with 1343, the twelve beautiful girls were replaced by twelve painted wooden silhouttes, which the people often contested with the throwing of stones and rubbish. Starting with 1379, the feast was canceled.
After almost seven centuries, in 1999, Festa delle Marie was relaunched on the occasion of the Venice Carnival, as a reenactment of the original feast.
FESTA DELLE MARIE 2019 will take place on February 23. The procession will start at San Pietro di Castello at 2.30 pm, will pass through via Garibaldi and Riva degli Schiavoni, to reach the stage in Piazza San Marco at 4.00 pm, where the twelve Marias will be presented to the public.