Thursday, May 1


Ah, Ascension Day!

The most glorious day of the year in our city of canals! Time to get the great gilded state barge, the Bucentaur, out into the harbor and watch as Mayor Bloomberg in his ermine robes and cloth-of-gold corno ceremonially weds the Most Serene City of New York to the East River. The blue-white-orange flaps on high, while the Cardinal looks on and gaily-decorated rafts of floating cornetists and cantors from the ducal chapel play a meddley of the Gabrielis and John Philip Sousa...

Wait. Oh, snap, that's not New York, that's Venice. And Napoleon trashed the Bucentaur in 1797 and turned it into a floating battery.

And Bloomberg only wears ermine between St. Andrew's Day and Easter. Never mind.

Still, it was a pretty cool ceremony, and I believe some abridged and reworked form of it is printed in, of all things, one American version of the 1964 Roman Ritual, though, somewhat disappointingly, with a bishop taking the place of the Doge. Here's an outline of the original rite:
The "Marriage of the Adriatic", or more correctly "Marriage of the Sea" (in Italian, Sposalizio del Mare), was a ceremony symbolizing the maritime dominion of Venice. The ceremony, established about 1000 to commemorate the Doge Pietro II Orseolo's conquest of Dalmatia, was originally one of supplication and placation, Ascension Day being chosen as that on which the doge set out on his expedition. The form it took was a solemn procession of boats, headed by the doge's nave (ship), from 1311 the Bucentaur, out to sea by the Lido port. A prayer was offered that "for us and all who sail thereon the sea may be calm and quiet", whereupon the doge and the others were solemnly aspersed with holy water, the rest of which was thrown into the sea while the priests chanted "Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor" ("Sprinkle me with hyssop, and I will be clean" – Psalm 51:7). To this ancient ceremony a quasi-sacramental character was given by Pope Alexander III in 1177, in return for the services rendered by Venice in the struggle against the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. The pope drew a ring from his finger and, giving it to the doge, bade him cast such a one into the sea each year on Ascension Day, and so wed the sea. Henceforth the ceremonial, instead of placatory and expiatory, became nuptial. Every year the doge dropped a consecrated ring into the sea, and with the Latin words "Desponsamus te, mare" ("We wed thee, sea") declared Venice and the sea to be indissolubly one.
Fun, and it probably drives all the feminists and Freudians wild. Incidentally, starting on 15 March of this year, thanks to some wealthy Italians, and President Sarkozy, a team of woodworkers and jewelers have begun to rebuild the Bucentaur, at least in the French president's case, as a "Whoops! Sorry we destroyed your priceless historical treasure!" gesture to the ex-La Serenissima. There weren't any Hallmark cards appropriate for the occasion. I couldn't be more happy, but I do hope they use the thing rather than turning it into a floating Disneyland. I believe the Wedding of the Sea ritual does continue in Venice, though, in another abridged form, presumably different from that of the Rituale, these days. Anyone know?

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