Francesco Contino 1618-1639
Tradition has it that this church, dedicated to the Archangel Raphael,
is one of the oldest in Venice, supposedly having been founded in 416, or 650.
The latter date attaches to the legend that it was the second church
founded by San Magbo. Another story says that when Attila attacked Italy for the second time Genusio,
Lord of Padua, sent his family to the island of Rialto. When his wife,
Adriana, arrived in Dorsoduro she vowed to build a church if her husband
retuned safely. She built an oratory where the Bendictine nuns from San
Zaccaria, whom she had befriended, could visit and worship. Adriana left
the oratory to the nuns, who kept it up until it was destroyed by a fire
which swept the whole district in 899. The church was rebuilt by the Candini and Ariana families. It became a parish church, which was
destroyed by fire in 1105. The first written record dates from 1193, the
year in which the church was rebuilt and reconsecrated following the fire.
This church was itself demolished in the 17th Century being considered to
be beyond repair. The current church was built in 1618-1639 to designs by
Francesco Contino, with further work in 1676 and 1685. The façade, facing onto a narrow canal, was rebuilt in
1735, with its statue group of Tobias, Raphael, the dog and the fish (see
dating from this time too, and said to be by Sebastiano Mariani.
restoration of the façade in 2004 left it looking like new but lacking,
some complained, that certain crumbling charm and the aged look that it
possessed before (see right). But the pristine look didn't last, of
course, this being Venice. This is one of only two churches in Venice that
are free standing, i.e. you can walk all around it.
The church has its
original Greek-cross interior, which was reworked in the 18th Century and
is given a warm glow inside by the orangey net curtains.
The 18th Century art
here holds little to surprise, and there's the statutory Palma Giovane
painting. The organ over the entrance
(built 1743-49 by Antonio and Tommaso Amigoni) has a balcony divided into
five sections, each featuring somewhat feathery but strongly coloured paintings of
Life of Tobias by Giovanni Antonio Guardi (the elder
brother of the more famous
veduti-painter Francesco) in 1750-53. There's a central ceiling fresco by
Francesco Fontebasso a pupil of Ricci and Tiepolo (see photo right)
which is a bit darkly out of tone, but impressive. And in the baptistery
(entrance to the right of the high altar), a tiny low room, the whole
ceiling of is covered with a fresco, also by Fontebasso.
It's been much altered, but recent cleaning has left it maybe a little too
35m (114 ft) electromechanical bells
Rebuilt with the 18th Century's favoured form of the octagonal drum and
The church in fiction
This church is central to the action in Salley Vickers' novel Miss
Garnet's Angel and so it has become something of a pilgrimage destination
readers of that book. This probably explains the much better chance
you'll find it open lately and its recent spate of sprucings-up.
Monday to Saturday 10.00-12.00, 3.00-5.30
Sunday and holidays 9.00-12 .00
Vaporetto San Basilio
early 16th Century
Founded in 1286 by the
Carmelite fathers, an order originally of desert hermits centred around
Mount Carmel, and finished and consecrated in 1348. In 1515 there was a major modernisation of the
interior, and a new campo façade created, by Sebastiano da Lugano. The adjacent monastic
buildings were also rebuilt early in the 16th Century.
The brick façade facing the square and the canal is
early Venetian Renaissance and influenced by the work of Codussi. The
façade is by Sebastiano Mariano di Lugano, as are the statues, probably.
The statues are, from the top, the redeemer, the annunciation and the
prophets Elijia and Elisha. The last two are considered to be the founders
of the Carmelite order. The doorway has an unusual double pediment. The
side entrance on Calle de la Scuola with its very projecting canopy (see
left) is the original 14th Century façade and features Byzantine
palm-leaf detailing. It was restored in 2006 by
Venice in Peril.
The interior dates from the original 14th Century
Gothic building, but most of the decoration is later. The impression on
entering is of vast length. There are twelve columns down each side, with
gilded statues in each of the spandrels, much gilding of the arches, and a frieze of of paintings by late-17th and early-18th Century painters you
won't have heard of. No transept but odd big singing galleries suspended
either side of the apse entrance. The apse retains something of the
appearance of the 14th Century church and the sacristy has 14th Century
The second altar on the right has a 1509 Nativity by Cima da
Conegliano (see left) which is one of his best, with the figures not looking
to be made of
plastic, as his so often do. It's also unusual in including Tobias and
the Angel Raffaele amongst the attendant saints. The third altar on the
right is the only one decorated up into the dome above, with a sparkling
fresco depicting Two angels in
flight by Sebastiano Ricci. The fourth altar, the Altare dei Compra
Vendi Pesce, has a Presentation by Tintoretto.
Behind the altar is a copy of the central
part of Titan's Assumption from the Frari, made by a painter called
Tagliapietra in 1856. Hanging above the altar is a painted wooden crucifix
said to be by Paolo Veneziano.
In the left hand aisle the second altar has a Saint Nicholas in Glory,
with St John the Baptist and St Lucy, painted for this church in 1529
and still in its original Istrian stone frame. The effect of St Lucy's
eyes floating above her chalice is very odd and frog-like. St George
fights the dragon in the impressive Dutch-influenced landscape below. To
the right of this painting, over the confessional, is a small Holy
Family by Veronese, which was previously in San Barnaba.
The cloister of the former monastery (see right), which was rebuilt in the mid-17th Century
and suppressed in 1810,
has an entrance to the right of the façade. The wellhead in the centre is
dated 1762 and has the Carmelite crest.
Campanile 66m (217 ft) electromechanical bells
The 1290 original is visible on Barbari map. It was damaged by earthquakes
in 1347, 1410 and 1511, demolished in 1511 and rebuilt taller in 1520. This
one began to lean as the foundations subsided and was straightened in 1688 by Giuseppe Sardi.
The method by which he achieved the straightening involved digging away at
the brickwork on the three sides away from the tilt and wedging wood into
the holes. He then dissolved the wood away with strong acid and the tower
tilted back. At this time the campanile was also topped by a small octagonal temple with
a bronze statue of the Madonna of Mount Carmel. The current statue is actually a
copy sculpted in 1982 by Romano Vio after the original was struck by
lightning. When the lightning struck the campanile, in 1756, the monks
ringing the bells at the time were so terrified they fled in panic and one
of them hit his head against a wall and died.
The church in art
Santa Maria del Carmelo and Scuola Grande dei Carmini, a
typically cropped oil painting by John
Singer Sargent (see left) shows the façade stuccoed over.
Sickert's oil painting The Church of the Carmine is from a viewpoint just a
little to the left of mine for the photo above, and merely trims off the
top of the façade. It too shows the façade stuccoed.
Opening times 12.30-7.00
Vaporetto Ca' Rezzonico or San Basilio
Built in 1693-94 by Giovanni Battista Lambranzini
(who was also responsible for the nearby Santa Margherita and the
modernization of the interior of Santa Marta) for Augustinian nuns, and
paid for by Santo Donadoni. It's also said that the six nuns who inhabited
the hermit's cell (eremite means
above the door of San Marcuola moved here when that church became unstable
in 1693. The widow of Doge Giovanni Corner lived here until her death in
The complex was suppressed in 1810, at which time 38 nuns were resident.
The Cavanis moved here from Spirito Santo in 1811 and then Canossian nuns
moved in in 1863. The complex has been used as a teacher-training college,
by various schools, for language teaching, and as student and tourist
The church was restored in late 1990s by
Venice in Peril as it
had suffered severely from damp. The work was described as 'stabilising
and consolidating the altars'. Also at this time the Fondation Jean-Barthélémy,
and others, paid for the restoration of paintings in the church in memory
of the painter Marie Thérèse Krafft, who lived nearby. This restoration
work, on four wall paintings by Francesco Pittoni of The Miracles of St
Augustine, was completed in 2002. More restoration work took place in
2008/9. When I wrote to the
Istituto Canossiano in
2010 asking if I could have a look inside I was told that that 'at the
present the church is being restored, and is not possible to enter'. A
visitor in 2014 was told the same thing.
Described as 'rich and
Franzoi’s Le Chiesa di Venezia,
the church consists of an aisleless
nave, divided in two by the altar with an enclosed choir
behind for the nuns. There are ceiling paintings,
The Crowning of the Virgin,
by Niccolò Bambini, returned now after recent restoration, and 15th Century wooden choir stalls
with an unusual gilt and polychrome relief carving of The
Madonna of the Misericordia
in the choir
behind the altar (see photo
by Val de Furrentes
13m (42ft) no bells
Has an eight-sided
(pudding) shaped dome.
Opening times Always closed.
Which after all that expensive charity-funded
restoration work seems something of a waste and a shame.
Photo by Brigitte Eckert
Giorgio Massari 1726-43
Monks from Sienna
from the order of The Blessed Giovanni Colombino established themselves
here in 1392. In 1423 they built an oratory and cloister dedicated to
Saint Jerome. (They had previously occupied the nearby church of
Sant’Agnese.) A proper church and monastery were built here by the Poor
Gesuati order (as they now called themselves) from 1494, consecrated 1524
and dedicated to Our Lady of the Visitation. The order was suppressed in
1668 and in 1669 the Dominicans bought the place and got Giorgio Massari
to build the present, much larger, church, beginning work in 1726, to the
east of the old church, and finishing it in 1743. Massari also converted
the old church (Santa Maria della Visitazione)
to a library. The newer church became a parish church when the order was
suppressed in 1815, to replace the nearby suppressed churches of San Vio
and San Gregorio.
The monastery to the left of the
church, which become a boys' home after suppression, is now the home of the
Istituto Don Orione.
This was architect Massari's first major commission in
Venice. The niches on
the façade (a heavier and more theatrical reflection of the façade of the
Redentore church opposite) contain large statues depicting the four
virtues. A stone relief of the dead Christ supported by two Angels set
into the side wall of the church (seen to the right in the photo right)
may be from the original church.
interior, like the façade, is modelled on the Redentore. It consists of an
aisleless nave with six connecting side chapels, three either side, full
of exceptional 18th Century art. The effect of the walls and detailing is
pale grey, getting darker for the domed chancel, with it's unplain
tabernacle by Massari.
This church is a
treat for Tiepolo fans, with a fine altarpiece in the first chapel on the
right depicting the Madonna and Three (female Dominican) Saints, and some
Dominic-related ceiling paintings well worth the neck ache, or the easier
perusal using the handily provided (and precisely shaped) floor-standing
mirror. Also two by Piazzetta, a good one by Sebastiano Ricci, depicting
Saints Pius V, Aquinas and Peter Martyr, and a badly
restored Tintoretto Crucifixion which came from the nearby Santa
Maria della Visitazione.
Campanile 21m (68 ft) electromechanical bells
Also by Massari, with a matching parallel tower.
The church in art
Dominates right foreground of The Giudecca Canal with the Zattere
The Giudecca by
Also watercolours by John
Singer Sargent and John Ruskin.
H.Taine said (Italy: Florence and Venice 1869)
...on the ceiling a pretty piece of boudoir painting in the shape of
trim, rosy and bare legs; - in brief a work of frigid luxury and costly
magnificence. The Italian eighteenth century is still worse than ours. Our
works always show some degree of moderation because they preserve some
degree of finesse; but theirs plant themselves triumphantly on the
extravagant. As Taine was French the last statements provoke a wry
smile, at the very least.
Monday to Saturday: 10.00 to 5.00
A Chorus Church
Santa Maria del Rosario, known as Chiesa dei Gesuati,
by Rubens Santoro (above) with bizarre truncation of
the church and
the wrong campanile.
Founded by Cistercian nuns from the convent
of Santa Margherita on Torcello who moved here because it was a more
salubrious location. They brought their own paintings with them, amongst
them a Palma Giovane. They probably occupied an existing house initially,
having a small wooden church built for them in 1472. Their finances
would've improved after they acquired a miracle-working image of the
Virgin. The church was rebuilt enlarged from 1505 to 1520 and consecrated in 1586.
The length of time taken was probably the result of the nun's poverty
causing slow and often-interrupted work. The complex
was suppressed by the French in 1806 and stripped of its art. In 1820 the
convent became a girls' school and then an old people's home later in the
19th Century. It was a hospital after this and is now part of the Universita Ca'Foscari.
Aisleless with a ceiling divided into compartments where small
paintings might be, but aren't, this is a small and plain and very used
convent church with a big nun's gallery at the back (see photo below)
taking up almost half the church’s length, with two wall-attached altars
each side. The apse and its two side chapels have frescoed ceilings, and
for these alone I'd recommend a visit.
Veronese's spectacular Coronation of the Virgin, from the high altar here, now
in the Accademia. It's dating coincides nicely with the church's
completion in 1586. He was also commissioned to paint organ shutters for
this church around the same time. These show The Adoration of the Magi
and The Fathers of the Church and are now in the Brera in
The church in art
Rio e Chiesa degli Ognissanti by Mortimer Menpes (see below
Campanile 40m (130ft)
9.30-12.30 and 5.30 - 7.00(?)
It seems that there's currently (Summer 2015) work
going on inside the church and on the campanile. The main and side doors
are not in use, and so the way in is through the hospital entrance in the
courtyard, then turn right into the cloister and through the door on the
right along a corridor and into the left aisle.
Vaporetto San Basilio
Photo above by David Orme
Loco dei Catecumeni
Giorgio Massari 1727
Luigi Marangoni 1892
The Pio Loco, founded in 1557, had previously been sited in San Marcuola
and Santi Apostoli. It moved here in 1571, building on land provided by
Andrea Lippomano. It may have moved here to cater for the increased number
of guests at the hospital of the Incurabili after the battle of Lepanto.
The institution cared for slaves and prisoners of war captured during foreign
campaigns. It's more covert purpose being to convert 'infidels' (Muslims
and Jews) to Christianity ready for
baptism and subsequent citizenship. This task had previously been
undertaken by families, who would take in potential converts and guide
them through the process.
The complex was rebuilt in 1727 by Massari (the year after he completed the Gesuati above) based on Palladio's Zitelle, with a
central church (San Giovanni Battista) flanked by two blocks of
accommodation. It later became a nursery school, but now houses the Istituto Suore Salesie.
This church was converted from a warehouse previously
belonging to the Venezia-Murano Glass company and bought by Sir Henry
Layard. He donated it to a committee which had been set up to establish a
English Church in
Venice. The church opened in 1892, built to a design by engineer Luigi
Marangoni, with sculptures by Napoleone Martinuzzi. It contains the
tombstone of Consul Joseph Smith, which was moved here from the Protestant
burial ground on the Lido, where he was buried, in 1968. There's also a
window commemorating Robert Browning who allowed Anglican services to be
held in the Ca’ Rezzonico during the time he lived there. It is one of
seven stained-glass windows here recently restored with the help of Venice
The church was closed from 1935-45 and after 1945
reopened as a garrison chapel. Public services were later resumed for the
Summer season. During his chaplaincy of 1967-74 Canon Victor Stanley
resumed year-round services.
services, held every Sunday at 10.30am
original monastery and church on this site, dedicated to The Holy Trinity,
was given by Venice to the Teutonic Knights in 1256 in gratitude for their
help in the war against Genoa. Suppression by Pope Clement XVI followed in
1592 and the complex returned to the patriarchate of Venice.
This original complex was demolished in order that this church be built to
hasten and celebrate the end of the last great plague of 1630-31 which had
taken 46,000 people, 30% of Venice’s population. It had supposedly been
brought from the quarantine island of San Clemente by a carpenter who
lived in the nearby parish of Sant'Agnese. Santa Maria della Salute
means St Mary of Health - the Virgin was thought to have had a hand in
saving the Venetians. The commission was prestigious and a competition
was held, among the conditions of which being that the church be flashy
but not too expensive. Eleven proposals were reduced to two, the other of
these being a more traditional design by Smeraldi. The twenty-six year old
Longhena’s winning design took a Palladian base and made something freshly
baroque and theatrical. Longhena had studied with Scamozzi, who had
himself collaborated with Sansovino and Palladio. Building took 30 years (a wooden oratory was used
in the meantime) with the square in front
laid out in 1681. Longhena died in 1682 and Gaspari finished his work.
Consecration took place on the 9th of November 1687
The church’s dome with its crowds of angels and its famous huge volutes
cannot be said to make a small impression. And the building needed to
impress, as it formed the centrepiece of the grand annual ceremony where
the doge crossed the canal on a specially-built bridge of barges and
processed through the central arch to give thanks for Venice’s
deliverance. The ceremony continues to this day, without a doge, but with
crowds buying sweets and candles and streaming across the rickety
structure. In the
1930s it did collapse, with Sir Osbert Sitwell on it.
The church long symbolised Venice’s triumph over adversity and its
republican strength, just as its silhouette now symbolises Venice in
almost every film and TV
programme that gets made about the city.
An extravagant display, made up of eight Palladian façades, with the
grandest facing onto the Grand Canal. Huge buttresses with orecchioni
(big ears) support the drum of the dome and lots of statues of saints
and angels. The lantern on top of the dome supports a statue of the Virgin
blessing the city. Behind there's the smaller dome over the sanctuary and
two delicate campanili.
The interior is impressive but restrained, given the church’s exuberant
external appearance – a quite plain octagonal space with an ambulatory and
six radiating chapels. The high altar is by Longhena. The paving is said
to be inlaid with 33 roses symbolising the 33 years of Jesus's life.
Works by Titian (including The Pentacost which, like all the works
by him in this church, was taken from the deconsecrated church of Santo
Spirito in Isola) and Tintoretto (a huge Marraige at Cana from the
Refectory of the Crociferi). Also a Byzantine icon of
The Virgin, brought from Crete and set into the somewhat congested altar.
Campanile 48m (156ft) electromechanical bells
Two towers, but only one has bells.
In 1908 jean Cocteau wrote a poem called Souvenir d'un soir d'automne
au jardin Eaden, which tells of an argument between Cocteau's
companion on his trip to Venice and a young American. The quarrel, which
took place in the
Garden of Eden,
lead to the friend shooting himself on the steps of the Salute, which
was a not-unusual event at the time, it seems. Francois Mauriac, writing
in Le Mal many years later, mentions this event and says of the
steps of the Salute: 'One cannot even count all the young men who have
chosen to die there!'
One of the earliest buildings of the Grotesque Renaissance,
rendered impressive by its position, size, and general proportions. These
latter are exceedingly good; the grace of the whole building being chiefly
dependent on the inequality of size in its cupolas, and pretty grouping of
the two campaniles behind them. It is to be generally observed that the
proportions of buildings have nothing whatever to do with the style of
general merits of their architecture. An architect trained in the worst
schools, and utterly devoid of all meaning or purpose in his work may yet
have such natural gift of massing and grouping as will render all his
structures effective when seen from a distance: such a gift is very
general with the late Italian builders, so that many of the most
contemptible edifices in the country have good stage effect so long as we
do not approach them. The Church of the Salute is farther assisted by the
beautiful flight of steps in front to fit down to the canal; and its
façade is rich and beautiful of its kind, and was chosen by Turner for the
principal object in this well-known view of the Grand Canal. The principal
faults of the building are the meagre windows in the sides of the cupola,
and the ridiculous disguise of the buttresses under the form of colossal
scrolls; the buttresses themselves being originally a hypocrisy, for the
cupola is stated by Lazari to be of timber, and therefore needs none. The
sacristy contains several precious pictures: the three on its roof by
Titian, much vaunted, are indeed as feeble as they are monstrous; but the
small Titian, "St. Mark, with Sts. Cosmo and Damian," was, when I first
saw it, to my judgment, by far the first work of Titian's in Venice. It
has since been restored by the Academy, and it seemed to me entirely
destroyed, but I had not time to examine it carefully.
The church in art
Amongst the many views are all the usuals (Canaletto, Guardi, Marieschi,
perhaps the most famous are Sickert's and Sargent's. They both had a thing
for unusual cropped views, like the one by Sargent (see right). Frank
Andrew Hopkins Santa Maria della Salute - Architecture and
Ceremony in Baroque Venice Cambridge UP 2000
in film and on TV
The Salute has become a bit of a cliché for use in establishing shots that say Look - it's Venice!
Amongst the most memorable scenes are the threesome having a picnic on the
steps in The Wings of the Dove and the dome appearing mysteriously
over Katharine Hepburn's shoulder as she chooses shoes in Summertime. (I
say 'mysteriously' because there are no shops anywhere near the church.)
Daily 9.00-12.00, 3.00-5.00
Lorenzo Boschetti 1749-76
Founded in 809, the original church burnt down in 1105 and was rebuilt, and consecrated
on 6th December 1350. The current church dates from 1749-76 and is by
Lorenzo Boschetti, a follower of Massari. His façade is another
Greek temple front, based on Massari's nearby Gesuati, but heavier with
even beefier columns.
A couple by Palma il Giovane. Also a ceiling fresco by Constantino Cedini, a follower of Tiepolo.
A quite-recently restored Holy family with the
infant Saint John (brought here from the Maddalena church in Padua in
which some, Bernard Berenson included, have attributed to Veronese, was
more recently moved to the Carmini, where it is now confidently labelled as a
work by Veronese.
Campanile 35m (114 ft) manual bells
with a pine-cone shaped steeple. The original 11th Century tower was
rebuilt in Gothic style in 1350 and restored in 1882 by Lodovico Cadorin.
The local Barnabotti
The cheapness of the rents in the area around the church lead to its
colonisation in the 18th Century by nobles who had ruined themselves
through extravagance, and who where thus called the Barnabotti, in honour
of the area. They were
supported by the state and their daughters were accorded begging
The church in film
Featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - our hero
finds catacombs, rats and dead Crusaders under the floor and later emerges from a manhole
in the campo. Katherine Hepburn fell into the canal in
front of this church in
and the shop where she finds the red glasses, and her love
interest, is to the left of the façade - it's now a toy shop.
The church in art
Maschere à San Barnaba by Italico Brass (see right).
The church used to be mostly closed, but is currently open 9.30 - 7.30 daily due to a
'temporary' exhibition of models of Leonardo's
machines which has been here for several years now and shows no sign of
ever leaving. (Find
here.) But there's a lot
of scaffolding and stuff inside, which makes appreciation
of the actual fabric of the church pretty much impossible.
Vaporetto Ca' Rezzonico
Antonio di Cremona 15th
Founded in 806 and given to Benedictine monks in 989
who founded an abbey here in 1160. The current church dates from the
mid-15th Century and is by Antonio di Cremona. It's closely modelled on
the nearby church of the Carità with its three-part Gothic façade, but has
long since lost the finials that the façades shared, visible in the detail
from the Canaletto painting (see far below left). Has a triple-apse
(see below left) facing onto a canal at the rear. Built into the
façade of the canonica to the right
of the church’s façade
is an arch from a 14th Century funerary monument, visible in the film
still below. The skin of Marcantonio Bragadin, flayed alive by the
Turks in 1571, was kept here before being moved to San Zanipolo in 1596.
The complex was suppressed by the French in 1806 and
the buildings turned into a metal-refining workshop for the Zecca (the
Mint) in 1818. It was later used as a hotel and a magazine. In 1919 was 'restored by
an antiquarian', but it fell into a sad state of disrepair in the
mid-20th Century and plans were made to make the church into a concert
hall. In 1968 it was restored and became home to an art restoration
laboratory funded by private
rescue committees from across
Europe and the USA.
This all being prompted by the flood of 4th November 1966. Their first big
job was the Tintorettos from the Madonna dell'Orto (see interior photo
below left) then getting much restoration attention.
Adjoining, with an entrance (attributed to Bartolomeo
Bon) facing the
Grand Canal. Admired
by Ruskin, it's all that remains of the abbey, which had two
cloisters until one was demolished in the late 19th
In the early part of the 20th Century the remaining cloister was
let as tenements (see photo
right) but it has
recently been spruced up and used for art exhibitions.
A late 14th/early 15th Century Portable Altar, now in the
An important church of the fourteenth century, not desecrated, but
still interesting. Its apse is on the little canal crossing from the Grand
Canal to the Giudecca, beside the Church of the Salute, and is very
characteristic of the rude ecclesiastical Gothic contemporary with the
Ducal Palace. The entrance to its cloisters, from the Grand Canal, is
somewhat later; a noble square door, with two windows on each side of it,
the grandest examples in Venice of the late window of the fourth order.
The cloister, to which this door gives entrance, is exactly contemporary
with the finest work of the Ducal Palace, circa 1350. It is the loveliest
cortile I know in Venice; its capitals consummate in design and execution;
and the low wall on which
they stand showing remnants of sculpture unique, as far as I know, in such
The church in art
The Entrance to the Grand Canal... by Canaletto (see
left) shows San Gregorio with the façade's original embellishments.
The church in film
The church and a view of the campo in front of the entrance
(see screen grab
below) features in
Who saw her
used for art restoration.
Two of the Tintorettos from the Madonna
('The Presentation of the Virgin' is to
the left) getting
restored in San Gregorio in the late 1960s.
San Nicolo dei Mendicoli
The area around this
church is thought to be one of the first parts of Venice to be settled,
being so close to the mainland, and tradition says that the first church
here, dedicated to St Lawrence, was built in the 7th century by Paduans fleeing the Langobards.
(Although some books say that this building may have been a military
structure.) Recent restoration work found the foundations of this earlier
church, which was dedicated to St Lawrence, and discovered that it became
Greek-cross shaped in the 8th Century. Fire destroyed this original church
in 1105 and the current church was built. In the late 12th Century it was
dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra. The name 'dei Mendicoli' means 'of the
Beggars', reflecting the area's long history as home to Venice's working
classes, traditionally fishermen and their families. The church was
restored in 1361-4 and remodelled in 1553-80. The last major changes were
made in 1750-60 when the new Istrian stone entrance façade was created,
perhaps by the Roman architect Paolo Posi. A priest was imprisoned for not
being able to say where the money for this 18th Century rebuilding came
from. It was said that a hoard of Roman gold and silver coins had been
found under the campanile. This story also helps add weight to the one
about the church being built on the site of an ancient temple. Venice in
Peril carried out major restoration work from 1972-80, including
re-roofing, damp-proofing, work on paintings and crucifixes, and the
raising of the floor, which was 30cm below canal level.
The creation of the present, somewhat baroque, Greek temple front entrance (see
photo below right) resulted in restoration work on the old 15th Century
porch (to the right of the photo above right) which was once a common feature but now
the only other one is at San Giacomo di Rialto. It was rebuilt in 1903
using bits of the 12th Century building. Poor and virtuous women were
allowed to shelter and sleep here. The newer entrance has statues of the
Virgin (centre) and Saint Anthony of Padua
and Saint John of Nepomuk.
A nave with two aisles, the 12th Century basilica
plan features two colonnades of columns with 14th Century capitals
surmounted by rows of statues of the twelve apostles dating from the 16th
Century. The three-arched screen between the nave and the apse gives the
impression of aisles on three sides and the three deep chapels in the
right aisle make for a pleasing asymmetrical impression, so it's this
spatial interest that appeals here, and the atmosphere generated by the
darker upper parts. The paintings, mostly 17th Century, feature no
big-names - even the Marieschi painting is labelled 'attrib' and there's a
lot of 'anonime' works too. The varied and attractive frescoing on all of
the chapel ceilings, though, is appealing. And do put a Euro in to
illuminate the place - it cuts down on some of the shadowy atmosphere but
makes it much easier to see what you're looking at. Even more of a
mixture of periods and styles than usual, then, but a pleasing effect
nonetheless, based upon numerical harmonies.
26m (85ft) manual bells
Dates from the 12th Century building. Damaged by a stray bomb in WWII. The clock was added in 1764.
Also benefited from the restoration work by Venice in Peril in the
A Crucifixion with saints from the 14th Century (photo
below) recently discovered. See my
The church in film
This is the main church that Donald Sutherland is restoring in Don’t
Mon-Sat 10.00-12.00, 4.00-6.00
Vaporetto San Basilio