We’ve covered this ritual in City and Guild, but time for some extra material. I thought this ritual was a pagan survival, but no, it was begun by the Pope himself. Ah, Catholics, doing pagan-sounding things right up until you research.

We’ve reached the dogado of Sebastian Ziani. He’s from the richest family in Venice, although not from the tier of highest status. They are the wealthiest because of the intervention of the treasure of the goddess Juno. This may lead me to rethink my urban Dianic cult a little.

The splendid dogado of Sebastiano Ziani was remarkable for one event, at least, of romantic and historic interest—the first “Espousals of Venice and the Sea.” In March 1177 Pope Alexander III. arrived at the Lido after weary stately wanderings through Europe. He was received with joy and honour by all classes of the community : they were fervent Catholics and cared little about questions and parties for or against Papacy which moved other States.

Residing pompously at the Palace of the Patriarch of Grado, his Holiness entered fully into the ecclesiastical and political affairs of the city. Doee Ziani was absent in command of the Venetian fleet, and in May news reached Venice that he had gained a decisive victory at Salboro over the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, and that his son and heir, Prince Otto, was a prisoner of war. The whole city turned out to welcome the victors, with their rich booty and many captives.

Upon the beach of Lido stood the Pontiff—the centre of a notable group of dignitaries in full robes of state. Alexander was the first to cong-ratulate the victorious Doge, and at the same time he publicly blessed the brave seamen and their leaders. Raising the kneeling Doge to his feet the Pope embraced him, and, taking off one of his own signet rings, he placed it upon Ziani’s thumb. ” Take this, my son,” he said, ” as a token of the true and perpetual dominion of the sea, which thou and thy successors shall wed every year upon this auspicious festival of the Ascension, that all men may know that the sea belongs to Venice, and that she is indissolubly joined thereto as a bride to her husband.” Then the whole company adjourned to the venerable church of San Niccolo where ” Te Deum ” was sung pontifically. By gondola, and barca, and in flat-keeled galley, a water pageant made its way to the Piazzetta, and the rest of the day was spent in general merry-making.

The annual commemoration was made the occasion of universal rejoicing and pageantry. The Doge and the most distinguished members of the Council and the foreign ambassadors to Venice took their places on board a wonderful vessel, ‘ Bucintoro” it was called, and in stately procession went off to the Lido. We must not suppose that only statesmen and seamen took part in the pageant, for, obviously, it was an occasion for the display of the personal charms and elegant fashions of the gentildonne. For the use of the Dogaressa and her ladies a splendid galley was built, shaped like a Grecian temple, and tethered to a pair of wooden sea monsters, wherein the forty rowers were seated.

Arrived at the historic spot the Doge and Dogaressa, with their ecclesiastical and official attendants, embarked in a gaily decorated boat and set out to sea. Thence the Doge cast a superb ring into the deep—a ring of gold, enriched with onyx, lapis-lazuli, and malachite, engraved with the sign of St Mark holding a book of the Gospel. ” Sponsamus te mare nostrum in signum veri et perpetui dominii,” were the words he uttered solemnly, whilst the clergy
from golden vases sprinkled holy water upon the company and upon the smiling rippling sea. The Dogaressa and the ladies of her suite cast into the clear water the lovely nosegays they had brought with them—roses, carnations, and lilies.

Returning to Venice, after devotions in San Niccolo, the Doge gave a magnificent banquet in the palace to the notables of the city, and then all the lovely girls and the comely youths of every class were entertained at a vast ball, which overflowed the Piazza, and found relief only in the most distant calli. By old prescription the workmen of the Arsenal were entertained at supper by the Doge and Dogaressa. Each man had the privilege of keeping his knife and spoon, his glass and his napkin, and he received besides a silver medal—bearing the effigies of the Most Serene couple, a case of useful medicines, a beautiful box of comfits, and a flask of Greek Muscat wine.

In later times the “Marriage of the Sea” was made a second carnival—lasting fifteen days, during which a great fair was held in the Piazza with fireworks such as Venetians only knew how to make, each evening at the Lido.

From Doge Ziani’s day came the annual athletic festival on the Lido. Lads turned fifteen, and young men up to thirty, after careful training in their various sestieri or city wards, went off to the butts and tracks set up upon the beach to contest for prizes in shooting, wrestling, boxing, running, and other sports. The competitors were arranged in twelve groups called, ‘^ Duodene” and every one was expected to be a proficient bowman. Merchant ships always carried a certain number of such expert young bowmen.

All ” catches ” were permissible—indeed kicking, wringing the neck, and all the features,
— brutal as they were,—of the Olympian grievous boxing were not disallowed. Bamboos as well as fists were used ! All classes of the male folk of the islands were eligible to compete in every contest and upon equal terms. Matrons and maids thronged to watch and encourage sons and sweethearts, each fair one scrupulously careful about her dress and veil. Many a Venetian ” Venus du Milo ” doubtless longed to try herself against her companions, but such maiden contests were inadmissible by the State laws.

Incidentally these sports, which revived the athletic contests inaugurated by the Dogaressa Teodora Selvo, gave rise to rivalries between the inhabitants of the eastern and western halves of the City, which were ultimately resolved into two opposing parties—the ” CastellanV and the ” Nicolottiy A neutral zone was ultimately marked out, whereupon stood the church of San Trovaso. The sacred building had doors opening west and east so that adherents of both parties might attend the Divine Offices without encountering one another. Difficulties however soon arose through the wantonness of women : maidens of one party were constantly falling in love with men of the other, and then trouble ensued!

The Emperor Frederic Barbarossa himself came to Venice in July ii 77—reconciling himself to the power of the world in the person of Doge Sebastiano Ziani, and to the power of the Church in the person of Pope Alexander III. He was sumptuously entertained by the Doge and Dogaressa. Conquerors and conquered joined together in scenes of gaiety and splendour. The Doge appeared in regal guise, accompanied by the new insignia of office, bestowed by the Sovereign Pontiff,—a folding Chair of State, a Royal Cushion, a golden Sword of State, a great painted lighted candle, and four silver trumpets. The Dogaressa wore a jewelled diadem around her Ducal horned cap, the gift of the Pope, and a cape or mantle of gold brocade, bearing the Imperial cognisance placed around her shoulders by the Emperor.

Happily Sebastiano Ziani was a wealthy man and so was able to maintain the Ducal dignity without reproach. He was born in 11 02—the son of Marino Ziani of Santa Giustina in Castello, a noble of ambassadorial rank. A curious legend was treasured in the family : an ancestor at Altino, discovered among the ruins of the Temple of Juno, a cow moulded in solid gold ! This was the foundation of the vast riches of the family,—the wealthiest by far of all in Venice, and known by the sobriquet “Fa Tuiglia della Vacca doro. ” ” Z ‘haver de Ziani ! ” became a proverb—synonymous of the possession of great wealth.

Sebastiano lavished munificence unstintingly in Venice—new bridges, new facades to buildings, new churches, were witnesses to his benevolence, and dying, in 1 175, he left the bulk of his fortune for the decoration of San Marco. He abdicated in 1170 and entered the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore. No historian has preserved the date of Dogaressa Cecilia’s death,—probably she too found a refuge in the ducal convent of San Zaccaria.


Games of chance and gambling were always restricted in old Venice, but in 1175 Niccolo Barattieri, as a reward —onesta grazia,—in the words of the Doge,—for having succeeded when many others had failed, in lifting and placing the two great pillars of Samos granite at the end of the Piazzetta, claimed the privilege of opening a gaming saloon or tent, between the columns. The promise could not be gainsaid—”whatever the successful engineer likes to ask “—but to prevent so far as possible the success of the undertaking it was ordained that all public executions should be carried out on the spot. Between the two pillars a raised flat stone was placed, and upon it “are laid, and hath ever been, for the space of three days and three nights, the heads of all such as are enemies or traitors to the State, or some notorious offender.”

  • Giant wooden sea monsters that could be animated.
  • A tiny Infernal Aura between the columns in the Piazetta.
  • The richest family in Venice owes their wealth to a literal golden calf
  • There is sufficient manufacturing depth that every worker at the Arsenal can be given a box of useful medicines each year.
  • Pageantry and parties as settings for stories.
  • If you’re a faerie, discovering people are going to douse each other with holy water may prove uncomfortable.
  • The two factions let us reuse all the Green vs Blue material that has turned up at various times.

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