The Bucentaur and the Festa della Sensa in VeniceLocal Traditions
The Bucentaur and the Festa della Sensa in Venice
The Sensa Festival (Ascension Festival on the 40th day after Easter) was a very important celebration for the Venice Republic.
During the celebration, a particular ceremony would take place, called the ‘Marriage of the Sea', which symbolized the maritime supremacy of Venice. The ceremony started around 1000 AD to commemorate the conquering of Dalmatia by the Doge Pietro II Orseolo. A solemn procession of boats would take place, headed by the doge's galley, which navigated out of the lagoon through the inlet at Lido. Upon arriving opposite the Church of St Nicolò, the doge would drop a consecrated ring into the sea and with the words ‘We wed thee, sea, in the sign of true and everlasting dominion' declared Venice and the sea to be indissolubly united.
The ship used by the Doge during the Marriage of the Sea was the Bucentaur, a luxurious galley that was kept in the Venice Arsenal during the remainder of the year. The last and most magnificent of the bucentaurs was commissioned by the Senate in 1719 but was later destroyed in 1798 by the French occupiers as a gesture of scorn towards the declined Venice Republic and to recover the abundant gold decorations. The hull was converted into a gunboat and later into a prison ship.
To gain an idea of how splendid the last Bucentaur would look, visit the Arsenal Museum where a scaled model of the vessel is displayed, and the Correr Museum, where the few elements of the sumptuous gilded decorations that survived the flames are kept. The name Bucentaur derives from the Venetian buzino d'oro, a term for a type of vessel called burcio and covered in gold.
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