Believers or non-believers, the famous Madonna dell’Angelo is dear to everyone’s heart: residents, tourists and all the pilgrims who come to Caorle every five years to pay tribute to her.
Small white and blue flags colour the streets of the town, images of the Madonna dell’Angelo appear on the balconies and windows of the houses of the people of Caorle, lights illuminate the fishing port of Caorle where the “Caorlina Grande” is moored: the town is preparing to celebrate the five-yearly Madonna dell’Angelo feast, held on the second Sunday of September. The entire community of Caorle eagerly awaits this event, which every five years attracts thousands of faithful and curious onlookers to the city, drawn by the “spectacle” of the procession at sea.
The origins of the Caorle community’s devotion to the Virgin Mary are lost in the mists of time: legend has it that some fishermen, while casting their nets, saw a wooden statue of the Madonna floating nearby and that it was transported to the then existing church dedicated to the Archangel Michael, which was therefore also dedicated to the Madonna dell’Angelo.
The origin of the procession at sea is more recent: in 1874, the image of the Virgin Mary was crowned by the then Patriarch of Venice, Giuseppe Trevisanato, and it was decided that every twenty-five years this solemnity would be commemorated on 8, 9, and 10 September. Later, in the first half of the twentieth century, a series of events occurred that changed the temporal recurrence of the celebration. During the Second World War, in particular, when Caorle was in danger of having to be evacuated, the then archpriest Monsignor Felice Marchesan gathered over 10,000 people in front of the sanctuary to invoke Mary’s intercession to save the city from destruction. On that occasion, a vow was made to restore the sanctuary, which had been damaged by time and salt. And so it was done: the restoration work was completed in 1949 and was celebrated with a great celebration, as well as the first sea procession in modern times. In 1954 and 1958, the then Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Roncalli (who later became Pope John XXIII) wanted to repeat the celebration, the first time on the occasion of the Marian year and the second time on the occasion of the centenary of the apparitions in Lourdes. His successor in Venice, Patriarch Giovanni Urbani, together with Monsignor Felice Marchesan, decided that the celebration should no longer be held every 25 years but that it should be repeated every five years. This has been the case since 1965 and continues to this day.
The religious celebrations that precede the Madonna dell’Angelo feast include a “Peregrinatio” of the Statue of the Virgin in all the parishes of the municipality of Caorle. There is a walking procession with the statue from the parish of Santa Margherita to the Cathedral of Caorle, with a stop at the fishing port. The Madonna dell’Angelo then remains in the Cathedral until Sunday morning, when the Patriarch of Venice celebrates the solemn pontifical in Piazza Vescovado. Solemn Vespers are followed by the procession that accompanies the Madonna to the fishing port where she is embarked on the “Caorlina Grande”, which rows her to the Sanctuary. The Caorlina is followed by the procession of fishing boats and all the other Caorlotte vessels: the event is followed by over one hundred thousand people who crowd the entire coastline.
Also as part of the celebrations linked to the Madonna dell’Angelo feast, a few days before the procession at sea, a street dinner is held, with over 2000 people sitting along a snake of almost 250 tables winding through the old town centre, eating and having fun together, as was the custom in the past.