September 24, 2020

Saint Thekla and the Bubonic Plague of 1630 in the Italian City of Este

The first Cathedral in Milan was originally dedicated to the early Christian martyr Saint Thekla and the beautiful Baroque church of Este, near Venice, is still the most important church in her name to be found in Europe. It was here that in the 1630s citizens prayed to Saint Thekla during a violent outbreak of bubonic plague that killed 50,000 people in Este and the surrounding area. Some years later, in 1758, Este’s priest, Marco Marchetti, commissioned a moving portrait of Saint Thekla from Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a key exponent of Venetian Baroque painting.
In just twelve months, Tiepolo created an imposing altarpiece measuring 290 square feet that decorates the altar of Este’s Cathedral to this day. It was installed on Christmas Day, 1759. Saint Thekla herself is featured in the painting as she intercedes with the Eternal Father to ask for the liberation of Este from the plague. Some moving scenes include a young girl sitting by her deceased mother standing against the town of Este and its surrounding hills.