Most churches are welcoming and just have good vibes overall; even after looking at the art, you want to linger because it feels good to be there. Sometimes I sit down and just soak up the overall energy, and end up leaving refreshed and restored. Isn’t that what a sanctuary is for? Plus, you can’t underestimate the importance of resting your feet in Venice, and a church is good place to do it.
Some churches actively recruit visitors (the 16 Chorus Pass churches, for example), and even some of the smaller neighborhood churches are very cordial to tourists with helpful signs and brochures in many languages. I visited the church of Ss. Apostoli one evening… music was playing, and the priest came up and introduced himself, thanked me for coming, and told me that he loved Beethoven. That church’s pamphlet describes all the art and then adds this nice little message:
Sister, Brother, now resume your way in peace. May you admire many other beautiful things created by men, but above all may you be a worker for peace, recognizing God's face in every man's face....
Most of the sacristans/attendants in the churches are very kind. On several occasions when I didn’t have coins for the light boxes and I’ve asked them for change, they’ve just turned the lights on for me for free. A very sweet monk in San Giorgio Maggiore let me go upstairs to see their Carpaccio. He didn’t speak any English – I showed him a postcard of the painting, and he smiled with recognition and took me to it. A lovable old lady in San Cassiano took me by the hand and walked me around the church, pointing out the Tintorettos and explaining them to me in a pretty incomprehensible mix of Venetian and English, but I appreciated her time and just kept smiling and nodding. The people who do speak English seem to love to talk about their churches. I had lots of questions about San Salvador, and the wonderful lady docent talked to me for about half an hour and then took me to the closed sacristy to see the recently restored frescoes.
But there are a few churches that don’t seem quite so thrilled about tourists tromping through. San Marcuola, for example, has a bunch of signs in many languages that say, “This is a church. It is NOT a museum or an art gallery, so shut up” or something to that effect, very stern! And the sacristan or attendant would not smile at me and watched me closely to make sure I didn’t deface a painting or something.
And then there’s San Moise, which has this big sign on the door that made me laugh! I tend to speed through the grouchy churches and linger longer in the nice ones.