The “Festa della Sensa” – Feast of the Ascension – takes place forty days after Easter. On this date (May 21st, 2023), for centuries Venice has celebrated her nuptial union with the sea as a symbol of its ancient alliance with water.
The ceremony originally went under the name of “blessing of the waters”: it evokes the memory of Pietro Orseolo II, young Duke of Venice, who sailed to Dalmatia to rescue its inhabitants, vexed by continuous assaults by the Croatians and the Narentines.
His victorious enterprise took place in the year 1000, exactly on May 9th, Ascension Day. Once in Zara, the Duke learns that the Narentine fleet is anchored on the coast of Puglia. He sends his army after them, to make them captive and affirm the supremacy of Venice. After joining its fleet, the Duke reaches Trau – close to Belgrade – where he meets Cresimir, the Croatian king’s brother. He implores the Duke to spare its people, offering his own son as a hostage.
Proving himself an experienced diplomat, the Duke suggests that the young hostage took his daughter Icele as his wife. As a response to the Duke’s far-sighted wit, the Croatian and the Narentinesss surrender and accept him as “Dux Veneticorum et Dalmaticorum”: lord of the Venetian and the Dalmatian peoples. No sooner than 1177, does the contract turn into an actual nuptial ritual. Duke Sebastiano Ziani favors the reconciliation between Pope Alessandro III and Frederick I Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor.
The episode will go down in history as the “Peace of Venice”.
Sebastiano Ziani is accorded the honor to parade the seven symbols of power: the white candle, the leaden seal, the sword, the wedding ring, the umbrella, the eight banners and the silver trumpets. On this occasion, the Pope allows the city to celebrate the yearly nuptial union with the sea, adding a sacred, symbolic wedding ring to the old blessing of the waters. The Pope himself offers the wedding ring with these words, “Receive this ring, to testify yours and your descendants’ perpetual sovereignty on the sea”, uttered in the original Latin: “Desponsamus te mare in signum veri perpetuique dominii”.