The mayor of Venice gifts a golden ring to the sea every year, Source: Luigi Brugnaro Facebook

This Sunday, Venice affirms its “marriage to the sea” with a traditional ceremony

This Sunday, Venice affirms its “marriage to the sea” with a traditional ceremony

The ritual is more than 1000 years old and was originally performed by the Doges

If you happen to be in Venice or nearby this Sunday (12 May), you should witness a curious and ancient ceremony that takes place every year around this time. Called “Sposalizio del Mare” (Mariage of the Sea), it symbolizes the long maritime heritage and dominion of the Republic of Venice. The ritual has been an integral part of the Festa de la Sensa (Feast of the Ascension).

The festivity is highly ritualistic and according to sources it was first held around the year 1000 AD at the time when Venice was busy conquering the Dalmatian coast. In that sense, it serves to commemorate and honour the glorious (and some might say proto-colonialist) past of the Serene Republic, which was the greatest maritime power of the Middle Ages.

Some details about the ceremony

Originally, the Marriage of the Sea ceremony involved the Doge, the supreme leader of Venice, as the main protagonist. Dressed in full regalia, he would board a barge called bucentaur, where he would be then joined by the Patriarch of Venice and other dignitaries.

The Patriarch would perform a ritualistic marriage between the Adriatic Sea and Venice (with the Doge serving as its representative) and pour a pot of holy water into the sea. Then the Doge would step up and throw a golden ring into the waters pronouncing the words:

Desponsamus te, mare. In signum veri perpetuique dominii.” (“We marry you, oh Sea! As a sign of true and perpetual dominion.”)

The ceremony was regularly performed until the demise of the Venetian Republic in 1797 and even one famous Venetian by the name of Giacomo Casanova wrote about it a bit sarcastically. He described the Doge’s barge as not very seaworthy and that even a strong headwind could “drown the doge with all the most serene lordship, the ambassadors and the nuncio of the pope", but if it happened then the Doge could finally consummate his marriage.

With the loss of Venetian independence, the ritual disappeared but in 1965 it was revived as a local cultural heritage monument. Nowadays, the place of the Doge is taken by the Mayor of Venice, who makes sure to affirm the commitment of his city to the sea with a golden ring.



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