Yesterday’s article about the church of San Vio included a sweet story about the little Contessa walking on the water across the Grand Canal, and I decided to see what else I could find out about this girl.
The E.V. Lucas version of the story says that the little Contessa Tagliapietra lived in sestiere San Marco and walked across the Grand Canal to get to the church of San Vio in sestiere Dorsoduro. Well….I found a couple of other books that claim that she lived in campo San Vio and that she really walked across the canal to get to her favorite church of San Maurizio! I had to laugh. I guess it doesn’t really matter which direction she was going – it’s the “walking on water” part that really counts. I did find a few more details about her life though.
It seems that this noble born Venetian girl lived from 1288-1308, and she was a beautiful and devout child who loved to go to church everyday. When it came time for her father to arrange a marriage for her, he forbade her from going out alone (even to church), and he paid the gondoliers not to row her across the canal (the Accademia bridge didn’t exist at that time). So that’s when she walked across. One version says that she took her apron off, put it on the water and stepped on it, and it propelled her across the Grand Canal like a jet ski (well, it didn’t say that, but that’s the image I get). Another version says she walked on a thread from her dress.
The story of this miracle quickly spread around town, and marriage proposals poured in. I’m sure she was tempted to say “so there” to her father but maybe not, since she was almost a saint. She refused to marry anyone and then died at age 20.
Legend has it that the whole city came to her funeral and she was buried in the church of San Vio. She wasn’t ever declared an actual saint but instead she was beatified which gave her the title “Blessed.” And for centuries, Venetian mothers brought their newborn infants to her tomb in San Vio because it was believed that her blessing and protection would keep the children safe from drowning. It’s a nice story! But now I wonder what happened to her body when they tore the larger church down…