Thursday, May 11, 2006

Day 26 - 8th May 1483

"On the 8th day, which was the feast of our Lord's Ascension, we went up to the church of St. Mark, both to attend service there and to see the grand sight, for countless folk flock thither together on that day. When they are all gathered together the Patriarch with his clergy and the religious from all the convents, and the Doge with the Senate and all the guilds of Echevinseach in their appointed order, and wearing their peculiar badges, with banners, torches, reliquaries, and crosses, walk in procession from the church of St. Mark to the sea, and there embark upon ships which are prepared for them. The Patriarch with the Doge and Senate go on board of the Bucentaur (in Latin Bucephalus, so named after the horse of Alexander the Great), which is a great ship fashioned like a tabernacle painted, covered, with gilding, and shrouded with silken hangings; and all this takes place with pompous ceremonial, with the ringing of all the bells in the city, the braying of trumpets, and the singing of various hymns by the clergy. When the Bucentaur is moved away from the shore by the stroke of its oars, which number more than three hundred, it is accompanied by above five thousand vessels. They sail as far as the castles which form the harbour of Venice, and when all the ships have passed outside the harbour into the sea, the Patriarch blesses the sea, just as it is customary in many places to bless the waters on that day. When the ceremony of blessing is over, the Doge takes a gold ring from his finger and throws the ring into the sea, thereby espousing the sea to Venice. After the ceremony of the ring many strip and dive to the bottom to seek that ring. He who finds it keeps it for his own, and, moreover, dwells for that whole year in the city free from all the burdens to which the dwellers in that republic are subject. While all this is being done all the ships crowd round the Centaur with great press and jostling, and make such a noise with the cannons which they fire off, trumpets, drums, shouting and singing, that they seem to shake the very sea. We were present at this sight in our own hired boat. After the blessing and espousal of the sea is over they row the Bucentaur towards the monastery of St. Nicholas on the Lido, and on reaching the shore there all disembark from all the ships and enter the church, which not a hundredth part of the people is able to enter, though it is a great church; and in all that multitude there is not one single woman, but the whole ceremony is performed by men alone. When the Patriarch, dressed in his pontifical robes, and the Doge, with all his retinue, are walking towards that church, the Abbot of the monastery, wearing his mitre, and all his monks dressed in their sacred vestments, comes out to meet the multitude, takes the Patriarch and Doge by the hand, and leads them into the choir of the church, where they hold the service for the day with great solemnity. After this they return to their ships, and each man sails home to his own place to dinner. Throughout the entire octave of the Ascension a fair is held, and there are wondrous shows in that week."

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