A Brief History of the Festival of Marias
Around 9th century CE, the Republic of Venice had a tradition linked with the religious festival of “Purity of Maria” and was celebrated on 2nd February of each year. During this festival, 12 beautiful girls of Venice belonging to poor families were selected to be Marias. Each girl was provided beautiful clothes and jewellery by a rich Venetian family and helped to get married.
Thus, instead of selecting the poor girls, they started carrying wooden Marias with clothes and jewellery of the rich families. After the procession, the clothes and jewellery was returned to the owners.
However, Venetians did not like the idea of wooden Marias and they started throwing rotten vegetables at them during the processions. Doge, the ruler of Venice, tried with a law prohibiting the throwing of rotten vegetables but it did not have much impact and slowly, the festival procession was stopped.
This festival was revived in 1999 as a part of the Carnival celebrations. Now, it is organised on the first day of the Carnival, around 10 days before the Mardi Gras celebrations.
The selection process starts a long time before the carnival. Girls resident in the Venice province can take part in this process.
Procession of the Marias
The procession starts in the afternoon around 2.30 PM from San Pietro di Castello in Venice and culminates in San Marco square where the 12 Marias are officially presented to the people of Venice.
There are two groups of Marias in the procession – those of the previous year and those selected for the present year. They are accompanied by different groups of persons dressed in medieval costumes coming from Venice and neighbouring towns.
After the Festival of Marias
On Monday, a day before Mardi Gras (last day of the carnival), among the 12 Marias, one girl is selected to be Ms Carnival or the Queen Maria for the next 12 months, a kind of Miss Venice.
Venice is a unique city, unlike any other city in the world. During carnival, Venice becomes magical. Most people think that carnival means colourful costumes and masks on the weekend leading to Mardi Gras. However, Festival of Marias is a wonderful inauguration of the carnival celebrations.
I love the Carnival Celebrations in Venice even if it is very crowded. The colurs, the joy and richness of costumes and masks, makes up for all the noise and confusion.