The Festa della Marie, one of the main Carnevale events, is a re-enactment of an old traditional ceremony took place yesterday, February 7 in Venice.
As far back as the 9th century, Venetians blessed all the marriages that took place during the year at a ceremony on February 2, the day of the Purification of Mary. This ceremony took place at the cathedral of San Pietro in Castello. Also blessed were the marriages of 12 girls from poorer local families, who were each given a dowry from a wealthy family of the city and outfitted with jewels from the treasury of St. Mark's. The generic name of "Marie" was bestowed on each of these 12 girls.
In 973, during this celebration, a band of pirates kidnapped the girls, absconding both the girls and all the jewels. Outraged, locals took off after the pirates, managed to find them, recovering the gems and returning the girls to safety. The Festa della Marie was created to thank the Virgin for her intercession in saving the girls and to commemorate the victory over the pirates.
Each year the 12 girls would be dressed and adorned in jewels for this parade from San Pietro in Castello. Eventually the real girls were replaced by wooden plaques, know as Marie de tola or Marie di legno. Another nickname for the wooden Maries was Marione. These were cheaper- no dowry needed. Smaller versions of the Mariones were called Marionettes- yes, this is where the word Marionette stems from.
In 1349, the Republic of Venice enacted a law prohibiting throwing fruit and other objects at the Mariones during this parade. Thirty years later, in 1379, the entire Festa was abolished.
Today in Venice, the Festa della Marie is a re-enactment of this traditional celebration commemorating the victory over the pirates in 973. A few weeks prior to Carnevale, a pageant is held during which twelve local young women are selected by a panel of judges. These girls, the "Maries" attend all of the important Carnevale balls and events, representing the city. During the days of Carnevale, the local citizens may vote on their favorite girl, with the winner being the " Marie" of the year. In recent years, whoever the winning Marie is becomes the Angel who will descend from the Campanile to the far end of Piazza San Marco during the Flight of the Angel the next year.
So, now we have a little understanding about what the whole Festa della Marie is about. Let's get on with the parade!
While the parade makes its way from San Pietro towards San Marco, locals in Castello await the entourage at Via Garibaldi. This happy band of singers belting out traditional Venetian tunes kept the crowd entertained during the wait.
Flag throwers lead the entourage.
The 12 Maries ( and wooden Mariones ) are introduced to the public.
After a toast to the Maries, the parade assembles again, ready to carry the Maries to the Doge at St.Mark's square.
The Marie's entourage includes groups dressed in historic garb from neighboring cities, such as Trieste, Verona an Conegliano.
Each girl is lifted onto a litter, carried by young gondoliers and other litter bearers.
The wooden Marie de tola's bring up the rear of the real Marie's.
You know what they say about Location, location, location? I've watched the Festa della Marie numerous times from dead center in St. Mark's square. I've watched it from along the Riva degli Schiavoni, the main street leading from Via Garibaldi in Castello to St. Mark's Square. I have to tell you, for me, there isn't a better spot to enjoy this Carnevale event than to be right on Via Garibaldi where the Marie's make a stop to be introduced to the local citizens. It's here in Castello where today you find Venetians living. And here is where they celebrated their Carnevale yesterday, not the Carnevale of 100,000 tourists jammed into Piazza San Marco. There weren't more than a few hundred spectators at this end of Venice yesterday, but the numbers didn't matter. It was the spirit that was important. Location, location, location.