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Santa Margherita

The mascherone (grotesque face) guarding the bell tower of Santa Maria Formosa isn't the only one in Venice; there are several others including this goofy guy protecting the campanile of the church of Santa Margherita. The church is deconsecrated and the bell tower is half of what it used to be, but the campo itself is thriving.

Santa Margherita

At one time, this was one of the most opulent Byzantine churches in the city. Consecrated in 853, the church was decorated with mosaics and had an apse covered in gold and a huge dome supported by four enormous Greek marble columns. The Byzantine church survived for eight centuries and was then rebuilt in 1687. The campanile was built in 1305 and the scary monster face added when the church was rebuilt.

SMarg tower

The best story about this church concerns a hermit nun named Bisina who in 1330, moved into a tiny cell in the bell tower and only came out once a year, on Ascension Day, to go to Mass in the Basilica di San Marco. The rest of the year, she would climb through a tiny passage in the roof of Santa Margherita and observe Mass from up in the dome.

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In the early 19th century, the church was suppressed and deconsecrated. The bell tower, which had became dangerously unstable, was cut in half, leaving 46 feet in place. This is the most famous of the eight partial towers in Venice.

After the church was closed, it became a tobacco factory and then a warehouse for storing marble from other suppressed churches. In 1882, it became a Protestant evangelical church for a while and then, in the 20th century, it was an artist’s studio and then a cinema. In the early 1990’s, it became an auditorium/lecture hall for the University of Venice at Ca’ Foscari.

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The Saint

Also known as Margaret the Virgin, she's famous for surviving being eaten by a dragon.

A 15th century statue of her standing with the dragon now guards the campo from on high but was originally inside the church. See second photo above and the one below. The dragon does not look very scary!

Funny quote from JG Links (Venice for Pleasure):

"High up on the house next to the campanile is a statue of S. Margherita herself; the dragon beneath her is the devil in disguise and it is a relief to know that he devoured her but then burst asunder and vanished, leaving Margherita unhurt. It must have been a nasty moment though. This came originally from the church and many other relics from it have been embedded in the campanile and the building, which is worth looking at.”

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Lots of other mascheroni are embedded all over the church:

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The Campo

Listed as one of the "Great Public Spaces" on the Project for Public Spaces website.

In Venice and Its Lagoon, Lorenzetti writes that this was “one of the most picturesque and characteristic centres of the life of the working classes…the campo was enlarged and turned into its present shape at the end of the XIX century when the many canals that led into it were filled in…”

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Comments (12)

sandrac:

I love mascheroni! (My fav hotel in Rome is on via del Mascherone and has a wonderful fountain at the end of the street -- decoarted with a cool grotesque face.)

This fellow on the church of Santa Margherita is quite handsome in comparison (and much better looking than your halloween mascherone at Santa Maria Formosa.)

What an interesting story about St. Margaret, I would think surviving a dragon attack would be quite difficult!

What wonderful photos, Annie -- thank you!


Annie, thank you for a very interesting post. I don't remember this church from my visit, I should go back.
And what a neat story about St. Margaret surviving the dragon attack.

Thanks for another interesting post. And congrats to your team for winning!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, great post. This is my most favorite campo in Venice. I enjoyed reading about the history of the campanile and of St. Margaret and the dragon attack.

I really enjoyed hanging out in campo Santa Margherita a lot during my visit in 2007. There was so much going on and it was fun being there.

Thank you for this great read Annie. And I love your photos.

Hey - that's my favorite campo in Venice!

Thanks everyone. I love the dragon story too.

I've talked to a number of people who've said that this is their favorite campo. I like it but it's not my fave because I really haven't spent much time hanging out there, probably because I haven't stayed in an apt. or hotel close to it. My favorite campo is San Giacomo dall' Orio - I've stayed in an apt. there twice and I love so many of the cafes and restaurants in that campo. But there are lots of nice looking places in campo Santa Margherita too!

Fascinating post and story on Santa Margherita and the dragon! I’ll have to add this campo to my list for next time.

I saw the mascherone over the entrance to the bell tower on the church of Santa Maria Formosa last October. Scary and grotesque! I can't wait to post pictures from that trip.

Anne:

Not a very uplifting fate to go from a church to a tobacco factory, is it?! Another awesome entry - thanks!! Is there a similar hermit nun story set in Rome's Trastevere district, do you know? I must try to think where I read that...

Maria, looking forward to your photos!

Anne, I don't know about the Trastevere story but it wouldn't surprise me - I think there were a lot of those hermit nuns in the Middle Ages, not just in Venice.

About hermit nuns, I think my great-aunt Rosalia could qualify as a quasi hermit nun. Rosalia was a nun who lived in a convent in Catania, Sicily. I don't know if she was a recluse in the nunnery but I've been told that when she came to visit her brother in Palermo, she spent all her time behind the closed doors of her tiny bedroom. Meals were brought to her and she apparently only left her room to use the bathroom. I saw her room and it was probably 7'x7' with a solitary small window looking out to the mountains.

Wasn't Sister Wendy a cloistered nun?

Hi Maria, yes Sister Wendy still is a cloistered nun as far as I know; she lives in a little travel trailer on the grounds of a monastery in England.

So your great-aunt was allowed to leave the nunnery to visit her family, but she remained in seclusion even during the visit? Interesting!

Fascinating stories! And wow, what an old church, if it was consecrated in 853. I love Campo Santa Margherita, it is so lovely!

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