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San Moise

San Moise

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.

Inside, the church has a nice collection of 17th century art and a Tintoretto “Washing of the Feet.” But the main reason to go inside is to see the high altar, another funny and melodramatic Venetian “baroque-gone-awry” masterpiece. This one looks like a big rock pile with a sculptural scene showing Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. Guaranteed to make you smile. A better photo is here.

San Moise altar

There’s also an interesting 14th century icon of the Madonna – she’s well-lit and surrounded by fresh flowers.

San Moise icon

In the 1870’s around the time that Venice became part of unified Italy, there were serious plans to demolish this church. It’d become dangerous with all those sculptures falling off the front, no one loved it, and even the Church had no interest in spending money on its restoration. It was saved by a Venetian nobleman named Count Alvise Zorzi, who wrote an “eloquent pamphlet” against the demolition, based on his premise that Venice has need of BOTH the ugly and the beautiful because ugly can be interesting and balancing, and as “a museum of the open air,” Venice should maintain a variety of architectural styles whether beautiful or not. The city stepped in, and San Moise was saved.

The campanile is much older than the church, dating back to the 13th or 14th century.

San Moise campanile

To Visit This Church

Easy to find along the highly traveled (and fairly straightforward) path between Piazza San Marco and the Accademia bridge.

Hours are 9:30-12:30 and 3:00-6:30 on Mon. thru Sat
Sunday: 9:30-11 and 3:00 - 6:30

Mass: Sundays 11 and 7, Weekdays: 7

A funny quote from Jan Morris (The World of Venice) about the camels on the façade:

Take, in particular, the myriad carved animals that decorate this city, and contribute powerfully to its grotesquerie….there is no zoo in Venice, but a mad-cap menagerie is carved upon its walls, for wherever you go these unhinged creatures peer at you from the masonry: dogs, crocodiles, birds, cockatrices, crabs, snakes, camels, monsters of diverse and horrifying species…there are some very queer dromedaries (the Venetian artist never could do camels, and the two on the façade of San Moise seem to have the heads of turtles).

San Moise detail

And here it is behind the blue Christmas lights:

San Moise xmas lights

More Churches:

Churches in Cannaregio
Churches in Castello
Churches in Dorsoduro
Churches in San Marco
Churches in San Polo
Churches in Santa Croce
Churches on the Lagoon Islands

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Comments (6)

One of my favorites! Love this little square in Venice. I know it well. :)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, when I first saw the exterior of this church my first thought was wow it's looks quite busy. I loved the quote from Jan Morris. And that was bizzare and sad how that lightening storm killed that priest and server. Wow!

Great photos! And I really like that Madonna too!

Thanks for the very interesting post. Have a great holiday weekend!

What an interesting church! I'm very intrigued by its 'frightful façade' and the 'Baroque structure with superabundant decoration'. And the camels with turtle heads, now that's bizarre and funny. I'll have to check this one out on my next trip. The icon of the Madonna is beautiful! Thank you for a very interesting story!

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!


Talk about Baroque-gone-bad! Still, there is something beautiful about this church, even tho it is a bit over the top! (And the garish Christmas lights don't help much!)

Great photos, and wonderful research, Annie -- I think for my next trip to Venice I won't bother with a guidebook, I'll just print out pages from your blog!

(BTW, are you giving any thought to joining the 2010 ST GTG that could be held in Venice? A few of us are turning 50 that year and thinking this could be the way to celebrate!)

Dan Goodstein:

Does anyone know how it came to be that John Law of Edinburgh, the gambler, head of the French
treasury and originator of the great Mississippi Bubble that bankrupted thousands was buried at San Moise in Venice?

Hi Dan,

I know that he lived in Venice for the last 9 years of his life. My guess is he lived in the San Moise parish and that's why he was buried in that particular church, but that's just a guess.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 2, 2008 1:55 PM.

The previous post in this blog was The Case of the Missing Earrings.

The next post in this blog is PhotoHunt: Pointed.

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