The Ceremony of the Doge of Venice

The annual ceremony of the doge of venice on Ascension Day, involving the tossing of a ring into the Adriatic Sea

The stranger in Venice is yet shown the richly gilt galley, called Bucentaur, in which the Doge, from the year 1311, was accustomed to go out into the sea annually on Ascension Day, to throw a ring into the water, and thus to marry, as it were, the Adriatic, as a sign of the power of Venice over that sea. This ceremony does not go into remote antiquity, yet the origin of it is of considerable date. In the year 1177, when the Emperor Barbarossa went to humble himself before the Pope, who had taken refuge in Venice, the Pope, in testimony of the kindness he had there received, gave to the Doge a ring, and with it a right for the Venetians to call the Adriatic sea their own. He bade the Doge cast it into the sea, to wed it, as a man marries his wife; and he enjoined the citizens, by renewing this ceremony every year, to claim a dominion which they had won by their valor; for they had, with a small squadron, defeated a large fleet of the Emperor's and taken his son prisoner; and it was to regain his son that the Emperor submitted himself to the Pope.

The ceremony took place on Ascension Day. The Doge, the senators, foreign ambassadors and great numbers of the nobility, in their black robes, walked to the sea-side, where the magnificent vessel, the Bucentoro, was waiting to receive them. They then proceeded about two miles up the Laguna, and when arrived at a certain place, they all stopped. The Doge then rose from his chair of state, went to the side of the vessel and threw a gold ring into the sea, repeating the following words: "We espouse thee, O sea! as a token of our perpetual dominion over thee." At the close of this part of the ceremony, all the galleys fired their guns; and the music continued to play. On their voyage back, they stopped at a small island, where they went to church, and high mass was there celebrated. They then returned in the same order they at first set out.

This cry of perpetual dominion over the sea, puts us in mind of the story of Canute; and knowing the present prostrate and decaying condition of Venice, truly may we say: "How are the mighty fallen." One of our frigates would make the whole maritime power of Venice tremble like the ring as it went through the waters. This ceremony was intermitted in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven.


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