I love the way the Venetians give nicknames to their churches. The real name of this church is Santa Maria della Consolazione but no one ever calls it that – it's known instead by its charming nickname which translates to Our Lady of the Fava Bean.
And there are stories galore about how the church got that name….a local family named Fava, the fact that beans used to be unloaded from a barge in the nearby canal, a pastry shop close by that sold cookies shaped like fava beans on All Soul’s Day. Some say it’s named for the nearby bridge and canal (boring!). One of the best stories is about a smuggler who was hiding salt in a bag of dried beans and was caught by the police who were getting ready to search his bags. He said a quick but heartfelt prayer to the miracle-working Madonna on the wall and his smuggled salt disappeared, leaving only the beans and he went free.
And yes, this church has a miracle-working Madonna too. This is one that just appeared out of nowhere on the wall of Ca' Dolce and began working miracles, saving smugglers from prison, etc. So a group of devotees bought the house, removed the image, and built a church to put it in. The first church was very small and was completed in 1500 (around the same time that churches were built for other miracle-working images in town, at the Miracoli and Santa Maria Maggiore). It’s fascinating that there was such a rash of miracles at that particular time in Venice.
The small church was demolished at the beginning of the 18th century and the church we see today was built slowly; it was more-or-less completed by 1750 although the façade was never finished except for the doorway and stairs. In the campo in front of the church, there are white marble stones that draw the outline of the first church and you can see how tiny it was.
The interior has a “delicate, sophisticated grace” (Terisio Pignatti, World Cultural Guide) with lots of sculpture and nice altars. There are two great paintings in this church -one is Piazzetta’s Virgin and Child with St. Philip Neri, a work with rich colors that Hugh Honour described as “an autumnal vision as much as a religious painting.”
The other is Tiepolo’s Education of the Virgin, my favorite Tiepolo of all that I've seen. I’m not a huge fan of this artist (I like the older Venetian painters more: Carpaccio, Bellini, Titian, and Anonymous Byzantine Artist) but I do love this painting. Mary is reading with her mother while her father looks up in amazement at the flock of angels above his daughter. Lorenzetti called it “the most beautiful of his early paintings….a scene full of tender intimacy and quiet beauty.”
As for the miracle-working icon, it’s very small and dark and hard to see; it’s in an incredibly ornate frame but is barely visible. There’s a photo of it in the church’s brochure (scanned in below), and it’s a nice Byzantine-looking image with the Madonna and child both wearing red.
To Visit This Church
The church is open from 8:30-11:30 am and 4:30-7 pm Monday-Saturday.
Mass at 9 am and 7 pm on weekdays; 9 am and 10:30 on Sundays.