Flight of the Angel

St. Mark's Square

Every year on Giovedi Grasso (the Thursday before Ash Wednesday)an angel lowered from the bell tower on <326>St. Mark's Square.

The origin of this tradition is in 1162, when Venice defeated the Patriarch of Aquileia. Here, the patriarch Ulrich had been captured together with twelve of his canonics. As a (intentionally humiliating) symbol of submission, the Venetians demanded a tribute of twelve pigs and bulls. The animals have since been been brought in a solemn annual mocking ceremony to death:

 

Under the eyes of the Doge and the people the pigs were rushed from St Mark's Campanile, the bulls instead hat their heads chopped off. It was the very highlight of the Carnival of Venice.

 

In the 16th Century this feast was pleasantly refined. Instead of pigs an acrobat on a raft in the Bacino di San Marco swung on a rope to the top of the Campanile where he settled down from there across the Piazzetta to the loggia of the Palazzo - "lightning fast" , as the annalists say - and presented a bouquet to the Doge.

 

The event was named after the first acrobat - a turk - Volo del Turco (flight of the Turk). It kept this name even if in the 16th the acrobatic part became a fixed privilege of the Arsenalotti e.g. the shipyard workers.

 

The Giovedi Grasso ended with a splendid fireworks on wooden towers, relics of the memory of the conquered castles of Friuli. The Volo was more and more diluted over time, and so they stretched the rope only between Campanile and loggia.

 

Ultimately, they confined themselves to let an angel down from the Campanile.

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