Monday, November 21, 2011

Procession for Superstition in Venice

Today, the 21st of November is a sacred day in Venice, where thousands will be marching in the streets holding candles to celebrate the Festa Della Salute, or the Holiday of Health.

From 1630 to 1631 Venice was hit with a terrible plague that was decimating the town. Such a thing was certainly not uncommon in those times, particularly in an area relatively isolated from the mainland and thus with lower genetic variation. Once a plague hit, it hit good. So the people of Venice prayed to the Virgin Mary to help the city survive this terrible plague. While initially their prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears, the people subsequently voted to erect a huge temple dedicated to Mary. Only after this show of opulence did the Virgin Mary give in (you know the ladies, they can't say no to expensive shiny things) and the plague miraculously stopped. To this day, a candlelit procession occurs every year to commemorate this glorious sparing of the Venetian people.

Now I'm all for a day off school and work, regardless of what the reason that holiday may have sprung up. However, something that I found strange when visiting Venice yesterday was the lack of information regarding the subject. And by that I mean factual information.

Nowhere, on any of the signs, do they explain what actually happened with the plague during that time. What was the bubonic plague? How did it get there? What really caused it and what really stopped it? When you read about these sorts of things happening in Roman times this is the kind of information you expect to be included, even if the information can only be based on an educated guess given the lack of evidence. But that is because the Romans believed in other gods, so no one will be so silly as to suggest that their supposition that "Jupiter did it" would be true.

In this case, however, the information available all seem to indicate that it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that it was a miracle bestowed upon the Venetian people by the Virgin Mary. While I am in no way opposed to having a holiday, I felt it to be extremely lacking. While some people will undoubtedly choose to believe in the miraculous nature of the plague's lifting, I don't see that as a reason to ignore the fact that the plague was not caused by human sin, nor all of the cool and interesting sciency stuff that was discovered since then about it's transmission and nature. A missed educational opportunity, particularly for the children who participate.

What do you think? Am I reading too much in to this, or am I being too soft on them? Indoctrination of the children into believing in miracles at face value, or just a procession that really isn't important at all?

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