A wooden church dedicated to San Vittore was built on this location in the 8th century; it was rebuilt in 947 by Venetian nobleman Moise Venier who rededicated it to his name saint, Moses (San Moise). This is one of several churches in Venice dedicated to Jewish Old Testament heroes who technically weren’t Christians at all (Moses, Job, Jeremiah, Samuel, Zachariah).
The church we see today was built in 1628 and its crazy over-the-top façade added in 1668. Public statues were more or less forbidden in Venice so families who wanted to immortalize themselves in stone could finance a church façade instead. Many of the scenes on this façade are connected to the lives of the Fini brothers, a “nouveau riche” Venetian family who had only recently bought their nobility from a cash-poor Republic that had started selling titles.
John Ruskin called it a “frightful façade.” W.D. Howells, American ambassador to Venice in the 19th century, described it as “in every way detestable.” Guilio Lorenzetti (author of Venice and Its Lagoon) more kindly called it “a confused, picturesque Baroque structure with superabundant decoration.” Hard to believe, but at one time there was even more junk on the front of this church – some sculptures fell off or were removed when they became dangerously loose.
And as if the church wasn’t bizarre enough – in May 1752 during a violent storm, the priest and his server were killed while celebrating Mass when a bolt of lightning came in through the roof and down through the metal cord of a hanging lamp.