In Roman Catholic churches, all the candles which will be needed during the coming year are consecrated. In 492 St. Gelasius changed the Roman Pagan festival the Lupercalia to The Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
The origin of the Festa delle Marie.
At Candlemas betrothed couples would go to Campo San Pietro in Castello to celebrate their marriages in the cathedral there. In the year 944 a gang of pirates from Istria appeared and abducted all the brides. The Venetians, led by the 19th Doge, Pietro Candiano III, chased, caught and killed the pirates, and then brought back the brides. Il ratto delle spose (The abduction of the brides) was, until 1797, remembered as the Festa delle Marie.
‘As the rescue was principally due to the “casseleri” or casemakers, who had their establishments at S. Maria Formosa, they requested as a recompense that the doge should visit their parish church in state, every year, on the festival of the Purification. The doge is reported to have said, “And if it rains?” to which they replied: “We will give you hats to cover you.” “And if we are thirsty?” “We will give you to drink.” From this arose the custom, which endured to the fall of the Republic, of presenting the doge on this occasion with two hats made of paper, or gilded straw, and two flasks of Malmsey.
Some people trace the derivation of the word “Marionette” from the fact that not very long after the institution of this festival the twelve living Marie were replaced by wooden ones. The Venetians still call a lean, mawkish woman a “Maria di tola,” or wooden Mary.’
(Hugh Douglas ‘Venice on Foot’)
The story is also told in verse, in ‘Italy’ by Samuel Rogers. In his ‘Venetian Life’ William Dean Howells described this as ‘the poem which everybody pretends to have read.’