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May 2008 Archives

May 2, 2008

San Martino


A charmingly cluttered parish church on a canal in Castello not far from the Arsenale, this Renaissance church isn’t listed in most guidebooks probably because it doesn’t have any famous masterpieces, but it’s got a nice eclectic collection of art including some modern 20th century works mixed in with the old stuff which ranges from Byzantine to Baroque. It’s a pretty church with good vibes overall and lots of interesting things to see.

I like the fact that this church feels less like a museum and more like an active part of a neighborhood. One afternoon when I visited in December, the church ladies were having a rummage sale out front –it doesn’t get much better than combining a church visit with some shopping!

San Martino boccaOn the façade of the church, there’s a bocca di leone (lion’s mouth) – these are the letter-boxes where Venetians could lodge complaints and report crimes, the Republic’s version of a crime stopper’s hotline, maybe?

These things were all over town at one time, and different mouths were designated for different grievances; this particular one was the place to complain about blasphemers and the irreverent (!). It might be fun to read some of the letters that were put into this one.

Continue reading "San Martino" »

May 5, 2008

Venice in Miniature

Check out these great photos from Trek Capri’s blog! These are Giovanni Moro miniatures that she bought on her November trip to Venice last year…so beautiful! I’ve looked in the window of that shop but haven’t thought seriously about buying anything, mainly because I travel light and didn’t particularly want to deal with something fragile. But I’m going to have a closer look at his churches on my next trip.

Trek Capri (Kathy) has a wonderful blog and also an excellent website with lots of great travel resources and trip reports. Her Venice trip report is coming soon, and I can’t wait to read it (no pressure, Kathy, take your time!).

And on a related note, I stumbled across these photos of a miniature Venice made of Legos! Pretty amazing.

May 7, 2008

Santa Marina

Santa Marina

This beautiful shrine commemorates a demolished church that used to be in this Castello campo. Founded in 1130, the church was originally dedicated to Saints Liberal and Alexis but was rededicated to Santa Marina when her body was placed on the high altar of the church in 1231 after the Venetians stole her from Constantinople. These "pious thefts" are strange and recurring events in Venice's history; for whatever reason, stealing the body of San Marco in 828 started a trend that continued for centuries.

Santa Marina (aka Marina the Monk) is a very interesting 5th century saint from Lebanon who entered a monastery when she was very young, disguised as a boy, and no one knew she was a woman until decades later when she died and the monks were preparing her body for burial. Legend has that it was quite a shock when they discovered the truth!

During her life, she was falsely accused of fathering a child and accepted her punishment without protest and ended up raising the child who grew up to be a monk too. Marina was buried in a grotto at the monastery in Lebanon where she is still honored today, but at some point her body was stolen and taken to Constantinople, where it was later stolen again by the Venetians. She is usually depicted in art with the child who she did not father, as she is inside this shrine.

Several doges were buried in this church which had a great collection of art and was the parish church of the master Giovanni Bellini.

The church was suppressed in 1818 and for a brief time, it was a wine shop and tavern. There are funny stories about waiters and customers shouting, “a jug in the chapel of the Holy Sacrament” and such. And then the church was demolished in 1820 and private houses built on the site; the doges were moved to San Zanipolo and the relics of Santa Marina were moved to Santa Maria Formosa.

Santa Marina

Santa Marina

May 9, 2008

Photo Hunt: Share Any Photo



This week's theme is “Share any photo” and I decided to share this one that I took of my friend’s collection of tops. What great toys they are! I do a lot of toy shopping these days for my nephews, and it’s hard to find toys that don’t need batteries or a degree in engineering to put together. This photo makes me nostalgic!

May 12, 2008

Campanile di San Marco

san marco

In my December restoration report, I mentioned that they were putting scaffolding around the San Marco bell tower, and I found a couple of articles that explain what they are doing.

This article states that, “The bell tower was built after the existing 16th century structure collapsed in 1902. But the new tower was found to contain a fissure, discovered in 1939, which is very slowly spreading. The work will involve wrapping a titanium belt around the tower's foundations, between 1 meter and 3.5 meters (3 and 11 feet) below the ground, at a cost of 6 million euros.”

Another article says, “Experts were called in after a survey revealed the 99-meter bell tower is sloping by seven centimeters, a sign that its foundations - thousands of wooden posts driven into unstable ground - are failing to provide adequate support. Surveyors also reckon the foundations of the tower are cracking by a millimeter a year.”

The first article says that the restoration work will take a year and a half while the second says it will take two years. It’ll be interesting to see – maybe we should have a “guess the completion date” contest. I’m betting on three years. Someone on Slow Talk said that the tower is still open to visitors, but I don’t think I’ll be going back up until all scaffolding is gone and that titanium belt is in place!

Below is an old photo of the rubble after the 1902 collapse. There’s an interesting eyewitness report about this collapse reprinted on Venice for Visitors.


The golden statue on the top of this campanile is Archangel Gabriel, and legend has it that when the tower collapsed, the angel miraculously survived the fall and landed gracefully right in front of the main door of the Basilica.

May 15, 2008

More about the bell towers

SS Apostoli campanile

There’s something so magical about that first view of Venice after arrival, when you see the towers and domes in the distance as you make your way across the lagoon. It really looks like some kind of unearthly fairy tale city, and those bell towers are so very beautiful.

Jacopo de Barbari’s famous 1503 map shows 103 bell towers in Venice proper (the six sestieri). Today there are 66 in the historic center plus a few more on the lagoon islands, and the history of these towers is a fascinating but rather hair-raising tale of one disaster after another. The most famous collapse was the campanile di San Marco, but that’s only the most recent one - they’ve been falling for centuries due to earthquakes, subsidence, and old age. A bunch of them fell on the same day during a 1347 earthquake and legend has it that earlier in the day, their bells mysteriously rang on their own, announcing their impending doom perhaps?

A few were blown down by high winds, several collapsed when people tried to straighten them, and others were demolished when they became unsafe. A number of towers were struck by lightning and burned. A recent lightning strike was at San Giorgio Maggiore in 1994 – the wooden angel on top of the campanile caught on fire and its charred remains are now inside the church. Andasamo took a great photo of it. The angel that’s now on top of the tower is new.

Quite a few priests, monks, and innocent bystanders were killed by these falling towers over the centuries. Of course, it wouldn’t be Venice without another miraculous story, and this one concerns the tower in the photo above which is from the church of SS. Apostoli. This tower was built in 1450 and then in 1659 during a violent storm, the belfry blew off. During the reconstruction in 1672, an old priest named Domenico Longo climbed up the tower to check on the work and slipped and fell, but his robes were caught on the arms of the clock on the side of the tower, where he dangled until he was rescued.

Many bell towers were destroyed along with their churches when Napoleon conquered the Republic and “embarked on a policy the savagery of which, even now, sends shivers down the spine. It took the form of a frontal attack on the religious institutions of Venice.” (John Julius Norwich in Paradise of Cities).

So many churches and monasteries were closed at that time and while some of the churches later reopened, a lot of them were demolished during the French and Austrian occupations. Le Chiese di Venezia (by Umberto Franzoi and Dina Di Stefano) lists 39 churches that were demolished in the historic center, and more were destroyed on the islands. Some of them were torn down to make way for public works like the train station and the public gardens in Castello, but others were destroyed because they were old and there simply wasn’t interest in or money for restoring them. It’s hard to get too indignant about all the art that was looted from Venice because the Venetians had been stealing art for centuries, but way too many beautiful and historically important churches were torn down, in my opinion.

Continue reading "More about the bell towers" »

May 16, 2008

PhotoHunt: Candy


I didn't think that I had anything for this week's PhotoHunt theme (candy), but as I was looking through my photos from my December trip to Venice, I saw this one and it popped right in my head.

"Melts in your mouth, not in your hand"


False advertising, by the way. If you hold them long enough, they WILL melt.

The photo is from the scuola next to the church of San Marcuola in Cannaregio. Have a good weekend and happy hunting!

May 19, 2008

A Kitten!!!

Oh my gosh, this is so unbelievable. I seem to have a new kitten! Yesterday I had a big playdate planned with my nephews – my brother was bringing them over to my house, we were going to spend the whole day together, and then I was going to take them home last night (they live about 45 minutes away from me).

Well, when they arrived at my house yesterday morning, they had brought a kitten! On their way to my house, they saw this tiny little thing in the middle of a very busy highway; they saw her almost get hit by a car. So they pulled over and my brother managed to grab her. I’m calling her “her” though I’m not 100% sure about that.

So they brought her to me because my sister-in-law is allergic to cats. The little thing is absolutely adorable, black and white with blue eyes. My nephews are madly in love with her and I think I am too. She is very sweet and cuddly and purrs every time I pick her up.

BUT….LuLu is not happy at all about having a kitten in her house. She is very stressed and tense, and is hissing and baring her teeth at the kitten. I don’t know if this is going to work out, but Stan told me to give them time. I’ve been thinking about getting a second cat for a while now, so maybe this is the one, but if LuLu really prefers to be an only child, I may have to find another home for the little one.

I moved a bunch of junk out of my guest bedroom, and hopefully it's safe and kitten-proof; that’s where she is right now while I’m at work. She’s very smart….already using the litter box, and she’s eating and drinking. I have an appointment to take her to the vet tomorrow. It’s so exciting but I am kind of freaking out! Going to try to get my work done asap so I can leave early today. Photos coming soon!

Oh, we are calling her Maria. I said a bunch of names that I like, and that’s the one the nephews chose. Davis had learned a Spanish song at kindergarten about Maria, and he started singing it to her. Yesterday, I told the boys that we were going to have to change our playdate plans since we couldn’t go off and leave the cats alone. Mason said, “That’s okay, taking care of a life is more important than playing” which was so sweet and really, a very profound thing for a 7-year old boy to say.

May 20, 2008

Here she is...



What a crazy day. I woke up to a flood in the bathroom but managed to get a plumber fairly quickly and was only two hours late for work. Now I'm rushing since I have to leave early to take the kitten to the vet this afternoon. Oh, and my home computer has died. Crazy!

The kitten seems perfectly content in her little safe room. She purrs every time I come in and just melts my heart. She's doing very well and it's so much fun to watch her play - she's kinda gawky and her pounces end up being flips and somersaults!

And LuLu seems a bit more calm, though we did have a bit of hissing outside the door this morning. I'm just going to keep them separate for a while and give LuLu time to adjust to this big change in her world. I think she will come around.

Continue reading "Here she is..." »

May 21, 2008

It's a girl!

IMG_1836Well, the vet confirmed that she's a girl, so Maria is definitely her name. She weighs 1.6 pounds and is approximately 6 weeks old, so we gave her a birthday of April 1. And she's healthy! She was so good in the cat carrier and in the car - she just seems pretty calm and unflappable for a kitten. She didn't object to the vet messing with her either.

She's too young to start getting her shots, so I'll take her back in three weeks. Now we've just got to bring LuLu around. They are "visiting" under the bedroom door and LuLu continues to hiss. I got some great advice from the Slow Talk pet blog about how to help LuLu accept the new member of the family. It might take some time but I have confidence that LuLu will come around, because she is really such a loving and sweet cat.

When Maria and I arrived at the vet's office, we had to sit in the car for about ten minutes until this incredible hail storm passed by. I've never seen anything like it - walnut-sized hail was coming down so fast that the ground became completely covered and it looked like it had snowed. And the hail hitting the car was so loud, but Maria just sat in her carrier and looked at me and didn't seem scared at all.

May 23, 2008

Spring at the Farmer's Market

Farmer's Market

Here’s some stuff I bought from our local market a few Saturdays ago. Clockwise from the eggs, there is lettuce, asparagus, radishes, scallions, baby turnips (both white and red), and cabbage. The brown square to the left is suet for the bird feeder and above that is some locally produced goat cheese.

In the bottom right corner, you can see LuLu looking longingly at the scallions. She loves long skinny vegetables - she always tries to steal one so she can bat it onto the floor and chase it around. Maybe she’s pretending that it’s a snake? She like green beans a lot too.

I’ve read both of Michael Pollan’s books (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) which thoroughly explain all the many good and green reasons to buy locally grown food. But beyond all that, the food just tastes better plus it’s so much fun to shop at an outdoor market. Ours has only been in existence for a few years and people are so excited that it really has a festival atmosphere. And this year, it’s open on Wednesday afternoons in addition to Saturday morning, and it’s so convenient to be able to stop by on Wednesday after work.

Baby turnipsBut another thing I like is that you can find things you don’t see in a regular old grocery store, like these baby turnips. I’d never had them before (and I’m not a huge fan of “adult” turnips), and they are delicious.

You eat the whole thing – roots, stalks and leaves – and I cooked them like Italian spinach, in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. Then I added a little bit of broth and let them simmer for about 10 minutes until the roots were tender. So good!

Our Farmer’s Market sends out a weekly email newsletter that gives a little preview of the Saturday market. The one I got today said that three of the market's farmers were completely wiped out by that hail storm I wrote about earlier this week, and they are going to have to replant all their summer crops. It’s a rough business – that’s another reason I like to shop there and support these people.

In cat and kitten news, I think we are making some progress. I was in the saferoom with Maria this morning, and LuLu pushed the door open and came in. She didn’t hiss at Maria, she meowed! Then she sniffed the room and left. I haven’t let them get too close to each other yet. And all I can say about Maria is that she is wild and rambunctious and hilarious! I’m really looking forward to this holiday weekend so I can spend more time with them. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

May 27, 2008

St. Luke, patron saint of artists

nikopeiaSt. Luke (San Luca) is the patron saint of artists because supposedly he was a painter himself. Legend has it that he painted a portrait of Mary from life, with her actually sitting there, making it the equivalent of a photograph, I guess. Some versions of the legend say that he did the painting on a wooden table top that Joseph and Jesus had made. The story goes that Mary infused the painting with her blessings and grace, turning it into a miracle-working icon that would carry her power across the centuries.

Now I’m not sure if Luke did one painting of her or many, but there are churches all over the globe that claim to have a St. Luke painting of the Madonna, and these images have been revered for hundreds of years with lots of stories about miracles, healings, and deliverance from wars and disease. In the Middle Ages, people made pilgrimages to visit these paintings which were just as venerated as the relics of any saint.

Well, Venice has not one but three icons that were supposedly painted by St. Luke. One is the Madonna Nikopeia in the Basilica di San Marco (that’s her in the photo above), the second is the Madonna de Pace icon in San Zanipolo, and the third is the Virgin Mesopanditissa icon on the high altar of Santa Maria della Salute.

These icons were legendary before they were brought to Venice (and actually, that’s why the Venetians stole them). The Nikopeia was brought to Venice from Constantinople in 1204 as part of the spoils from the Fourth Crusade; she quickly became the most revered image in the city and she still is today. It's interesting that most of the Masses celebrated in the Basilica are held in her chapel rather than in front of the high altar where San Marco lies.

The San Zanipolo icon came from Constantinople in 1349 about one hundred and fifty years after the Nikopeia. The Salute icon was brought from a church in Crete in the late 1600’s shortly after the church was completed. Crete was a Venetian territory at that time so technically I suppose they didn’t really steal that one, but they were on the verge of losing Crete to the Turks (and Venice had a beautiful new church that needed a Madonna icon).

All three of these icons are very interesting but in truth, they don’t look like they were done by the same artist, and Mary looks quite different in each of them. Plus most historians estimate that they are closer to 1000 years old rather than the 2000 they would be if they were really painted by Luke. But it's a nice legend, and it seems that in the Middle Ages, if you had a miracle-working icon of the Madonna, you should be worried that the Venetians were going to steal it from you. :)

Other places that claim to have a St. Luke Madonna include churches in Rome, Bologna, Germany, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Egypt, and India. There’s also one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The most famous is probably the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in Poland. The only one of the Venetian icons that is a Black Madonna is the one in the Salute (photo below isn't great since I didn't use a flash but you can kinda tell what she looks like).

Icon Salute

May 29, 2008

Going to Mass...

San Marco, side door

A few weeks ago, Girasoli asked me if I go to Mass when I'm in Venice. Thanks to her for this blog topic!

Yes, I do go when I’m there, almost everyday. I’m not Catholic and really, I know very little about Catholicism although I’m learning a lot as I research these churches. I admit that my motives weren’t the highest when I went for the first time – I just wanted to be in the Basilica di San Marco after hours so that I could sit down and take the whole place in without being stuck in that crowded, roped-off “tourist herd” line that runs through that cathedral.

But then I discovered that I really enjoy the service. I like the music and the incense and the part where everyone shakes hands and wishes each other peace. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should be going or not - I always sat on the back row and tried to be invisible, and I never went up for the communion part, thank goodness. Then I found a copy of this “Memo for Tourists” in one of the churches (it's also published on the Patriarch of Venice website) which basically says it’s fine for non-Catholics to attend Mass as long as we act right and are dressed properly, turn off our cell phones, and don’t receive Communion. So I’m more relaxed about going now.

I do have a kinda funny, kinda embarrassing story to tell. One afternoon I went into the Basilica and it seemed that Mass was starting over in the chapel of the Madonna Nikopeia. It wasn’t a time when Mass usually happens, but I thought it might be some special holiday Mass so I went over and joined in. There were lots of people there, all very dressed up. I sat there for probably 10 minutes or so, daydreaming and enjoying the music, and all of a sudden, I looked up at the altar and saw a BRIDE!

Well, I was mortified. It’s supposed to be good luck to see an Italian bride, but I have a feeling that the luck doesn’t happen if you crash the poor girl’s wedding. So I quietly crept out of the chapel and then when I got to the front door of the Basilica, I was locked inside! At that point, I was struggling not to laugh out loud and I know my face was bright red. Fortunately I found a security guard who let me out – he was very nice about it and was laughing at me too.

BSM mosaic detail

Continue reading "Going to Mass..." »

May 31, 2008

PhotoHunt: Self (or part of your self)


The last in May.

My hair, my hand, and my new kitten, Maria! Photo by Stan.

Happy Weekend!


This page contains all entries posted to Churches in Venice in May 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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