A charming parish church with a couple of famous baptisms.
While there’s been a church on this site since the 8th century, the late Gothic church we see today was built in 1475. The church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist; “bragora” is a Venetian word of obscure meaning.
Located in the corner of Campo Bandiera e Moro in Castello, this church is not that far from the tourist-packed Riva degli Schiavoni. It’s a nice break from the crowds to go to this quiet campo and visit this church.
The church and its art
The church has a very simple brick façade with little ornamentation and nice curves at the top. To the side, there’s a small belfry with three visible bells which replaced the campanile demolished in 1820. The interior has several nice chapels –the second chapel on the right is dedicated to St. John the Almsgiver, whose relics were brought to Venice from Egypt in 1247.
In the first chapel on the left, there’s a large and ornate 15th c. baptismal font, along with church records that show that Antonio Vivaldi was baptized here in 1678. His family lived in this campo and on the day of his birth, an earthquake rocked Venice, causing much damage to this neighborhood. His birth was rocky as well and the midwives, thinking the baby wouldn’t live, arranged an emergency baptism for him in this church. Of course, he did survive and went on to a rather troubled life as a priest, musician, and composer who is now one of Venice’s most honored sons.
The church has a nice collection of art with a number of works that were restored by the Save Venice organization in the 1990’s. There are several paintings by members of the Vivarini family, who were active in Venice at the same time as the more well-known Bellini family. These include a Madonna and Child with Saints triptych by Bartolemeo Vivarini, and several paintings by his nephew, Alvise Vivarini, whose painting of the Resurrection shows a virtually naked Christ looking very much like a Greek god.
Best of all is the masterpiece over the high altar: The Baptism of Christ by Cima da Conegliano, painted in 1492. Born in the countryside on the mainland outside Venice (his hometown, Conegliano, is famous for making Prosecco), Cima came to Venice in 1490 and spent the next three decades painting for various churches around town. This painting was his first commission, and it remains “in situ” (it was painted for the actual location where it is today).
The painting is very large and gorgeous with perfect light and vivid colors, and a most beautiful landscape behind Christ and John the Baptist, who both look like they came straight out of a modern production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The sky is an incredible blue with a descending dove and lots of little angels floating on the clouds. Hugh Honour says that this painting “has the sparkling dewy freshness of a spring morning in the Dolomites.” There’s another painting by Cima here (Constantine and St. Helena), as well as many other works.
This church has its own website! It’s in Italian, but there are many photos and also a floor plan where you can click and see every work of art in the church (click on “opere” on the main page). I like the ancient Byzantine Madonna (number 12) as well as other older works by unknown artists.
To visit this church
San Giovanni in Bragora is open from 3:30 – 5:30 in the afternoon, Monday through Saturday. Walk down the Riva and after you pass the Pieta church and the Metropole hotel, turn right onto Calle del Dose which will take you up to the campo.