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San Zan Degola (San Giovanni Decollato)


San Zan Degola is located in a small campo of the same name, and this is one of those magical places in Venice where you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. There are no other tourists, no glass or mask shops, no indication whatsoever that you are in modern times. And the church itself is charming and wonderful with rediscovered frescoes that might be the oldest works of art in the city.

The church dates back to the 8th, 9th, or 10th century (sources vary). It’s possible that it was originally an oratory that became a parish church in 1007. Regardless, it’s definitely one of the oldest churches in Venice, and it’s one that hasn’t changed much despite various restorations over the centuries. In 1994, the church was restored and reopened after having been closed for over two decades, and it’s now the church for Venice’s Russian Orthodox community.

San Zan Degola

The church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist aka St. John the Beheaded (San Giovanni Decollato) which morphs into San Zan Degola in Venetian dialect. There’s a curly-haired stone relief of the martyred saint’s head on the outside of the church.

This very small and very sweet church is Veneto-Byzantine in style with a plain brick façade and a nice campanile in the back. The interior is simple with Greek marble columns with 11th c. Byzantine capitals and a gothic wooden ship’s keel ceiling.

The highlights of this church are the ancient frescoes that were unearthed during restoration. It’s unusual for frescoes to survive the damp and salt air of Venice, so seeing these is very cool. There’s an image of Saint Helena, an Annunciation, and a particularly nice image of Archangel Michael standing on a dragon.

To visit this church:

San Zan Degola is located in between campo San Giacomo dall’Orio and Fondaco dei Turchi (the Natural History museum). It’s open from 10-12 on Monday through Saturday (these were the hours in 2008; see updated opening times in the comments below).

It’s interesting that the Patriarch of Venice brochure lists this church as having Russian Orthodox services at 9:30 AM on Sundays and Catholic Mass at 7 pm. I like the idea of different groups sharing a church (and it’s not like Venice doesn’t have plenty to go around).

More Churches:

Churches in Cannaregio
Churches in Castello
Churches in Dorsoduro
Churches in San Marco
Churches in San Polo
Churches in Santa Croce
Churches on the Lagoon Islands

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Comments (12)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Annie, great entry and photos! That is an interesting church. So simple looking. One of the things I enjoyed about Venice was the many quiet places that I stumbled upon. So cool!

Now that I'm reading your blog, I think I was near that Campo. I wonder if I saw this church too. I'm going to check my photos, because now I'm curious.

Thanks for the interesting read!

Interesting church. I wonder how I missed that one since it seems to be located near where I stayed a couple of years ago. More churches to visit on my next trip :-)

Kathy, let me know if you find any photos of it!

Girasoli, where did you stay? I've stayed close to campo San Giacomo dall' Orio twice - I love that part of Venice.

But this church is kind of tucked away in the maze; I'm not sure anyone would find it if they weren't trying to. :)

I stayed at Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo. It was near the San Stae vaporetto stop. I loved Santa Croce (even more than Cannereggio).


It is so cool that two different faiths worship in this church!

girasoli, my mother and I stayed at the Al Ponte Mocenigo for two nights in March 2006 - cool coincidence!

I've walked by that hotel many times - it looks like a great place to stay.

Anne, I agree about the two faiths thing! I originally thought that this church was only Orthodox and was so surprised to see it listed for Mass too. I've never been to an Orthodox service; I might have to try to go to one next time I'm in Venice.


A warning if you attend an Orthodox liturgy at San Giorgio dei Greci: it's long. I'm used to the eastern liturgy, but even I kept getting lost and not knowing what what going on. I think it's because with the influx of Eastern Europeans into Venice, the congregation is now probably more Slav than Greek, and much of the litugy is duplicated (even triplicated!) in Greek, Church Slavonic, and Italian. My husband and I finally left after about an hour and a half. Since the congregation stands most of the service, and the floors are stone, your legs, if nothing else, start to give out after a while.

Marie, thanks for the warning! I attended a two-hour long Mass in San Marco one time (for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) but did NOT have to stand up the entire time!

Pierantonio Berioli:

The church is open monday, thursday and tuesday 10-12

Hi Pierantonio,

Thank you for the updated opening hours; I appreciate it! Annie

Lillian Bouzane:

San Zan Degolla is featured in my novel - In the Hands of the Living God. When I was in Venice doing research for the novel San Zan was closed to the public - it was being repaired. But it was still an RC church. Interesting that is now being used by the Orthodox.

Hi Lillian, thank you for your comment and also for telling me about your novel. I've just added it to my Good Reads "to read" list.

I'd love to attend the Orthodox services here someday. It's a sweet little church.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 24, 2008 12:47 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Opening lines .

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