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!
On 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.
San Martino was a 4th century bishop and the first non-martyr saint in history. In art, he’s usually depicted on horseback, sharing his cloak with a beggar. His feast day (Nov. 11) is still celebrated in Venice today and sounds very much like trick-or-treating – Venetian kids march around town singing and banging pots and are given sweets including big shortbread cookies shaped like the saint and his horse. I’d love to be in Venice and see this someday!
The church was founded in the 7th century and rebuilt twice before the version we see today which was built in the 16th century to a design by Jacopo Sansovino. It’s very elegant inside with lots of stucco and frescoes including an impressive trompe l’oeil ceiling. The funeral monument for Doge Francesco Erizzo is in this church; his heart is in Basilica di San Marco but the rest of him is here along with a fancy monument that he commissioned himself. Other interesting things include a wooden crucifix that used to be the mast of a Venetian battleship, a Byzantine icon of the Madonna, and an altar painting that’s rather unusual in that the artist was a woman – a Holy Family painted by Maria Santini Manfrini in 1865.
There are some very beautiful angels in this church – four sculptures holding up the table underneath a Tulio Lombardo altar, and two massive marble angels that are part of the frame of Girolamo da Santacroce’s Last Supper. Santacroce was an assistant to the great Bellini and there’s another painting by him in this church, a nice Resurrection.
The Renaissance Lombardo altar was brought to San Martino from the demolished church of San Sepolcro; it was restored by Venice in Peril after being damaged in the 1966 flood.
This San Martino relief is nearby, over the entrance to the parish priest’s house. It might have been moved from the gothic incarnation of the church when Sansovino’s church was built. The relief was recently restored by Save Venice.
To Visit this Church
8-11 and 4:30-7:00 weekdays
Mass: 10:30 Sunday, 6:30 weekdays