Several interesting tidbits about the church of San Marcuola~
• It's one of the few churches on the Grand Canal
• It’s dedicated to a “Venetian” saint that doesn’t exist
• Has one of 8 partially demolished bell towers in Venice
• It houses one of 7 Tintoretto Last Suppers in Venice (this is the earliest)
• It's one of a number of Venetian churches with an unfinished façade
There’s no saint named San Marcuola. The real name of this church is SS. Ermagora and Fortunato, in honor of two first century martyr saints from Aquileia in Northern Italy. Venetians seem to dislike churches with names that are too long and so they morph them into something more manageable like San Marcuola, which is how this church has been known for centuries (other churches whose names have been crunched include San Trovaso and San Zanipolo).
Sources disagree about when San Marcuola was founded. 9th or 10th century, most say, though one Italian source says that the original church was a small wooden one built in 569. It’s been a parish church since the beginning and remains one today. Early in its history, the church housed a group of nuns who lived in a hermitage above the portico, but at some point the nuns relocated to San Trovaso and then later to the Eremite in Dorsoduro.
San Marcuola was rebuilt in the 12th century after it was destroyed by a fire caused by an earthquake. In de Barbari’s map (1500), the church sat parallel to the Grand Canal and the apse faced north. When the church was rebuilt in 1728-36 by Giorgio Massari, it was reoriented so that the façade faces the Grand Canal. But when you enter the church, the high altar is to the right, not straight ahead.
Work did begin on the facade (you can see the marble at the bottom) but was never completed, which happened a lot in 18th century Venice when the republic and its residents were running out of money (other façade-less churches include San Pantalon, San Lorenzo, and Santa Maria della Fava). If the facade had been completed, the church would have looked similar to the Pieta or Gesuati, also works by Massari.
About those obscure saints, the church’s sacred relics include the body of St. Fortunato and a finger of St. Ermagora. But the most revered relic is the hand of John the Baptist, which is displayed every year on June 24th and is commemorated in this relief on a building behind the church.
Inside the church: “The plan is unusual, with twin pulpits over the north and south doors and altars clustered in the corners.” (Hugh Honour, Companion Guide to Venice). There’s a lot of nice carving on the columns, and as for the art, there’s more sculpture than painting, with a bunch of Baroque works by Venetian sculptor, Gian Maria Morleiter (1699-1781) and several paintings by Francesco Migliori (1684 -1734).
The church’s greatest artistic treasure is its Tintoretto Last Supper, which can be seen on the wall to the left of the high altar. He painted it when he was in his 20’s and it’s interesting to compare it to his masterpiece in San Giorgio Maggiore, painted almost 50 years later. (See the end of the post for the list of Tintoretto's Last Suppers in Venice).
German composer, Johann Adolph Hasse, and his Venetian-born wife, opera singer Faustina Bordoni, are buried in this church.
For centuries, there was a traghetto station in front of San Marcuola, as you can see in the vintage photo above and my photo at the top of the page. Later, a vaporetto station was added as well. Sadly, the San Marcuola traghetto station closed in 2012, and the little wooden hut is now gone.
San Marcuola Photo Gallery
In this Flickr gallery, you can see what it looks like without the traghetto station in the first photo (taken in 2013).
The bell tower was partially demolished in the 19th century. The lower portion remains and has been converted into housing, You can kinda sorta see it behind the trees in this photo below.
Today the church has Roman bells on the roof instead of a campanile.
The large Baroque well-head in the campo in front of the church was built in 1713. By decree, its water was for the use of the poor.
A beautiful door on the back of the church~
On the rear corner, a saint in a niche~