Some call it a church, some an oratory – either way, San Gallo is no longer open for Mass but is used occasionally for art exhibits. I walked by this sweet little church many times before finally finding it open this past December.
The most interesting thing about this place is its connection to Doge (and Saint) Pietro Orseolo I, the only Venetian Doge who was ever canonized.
Pietro Orseolo was Doge for only two years in the 10th century, but he was a wise ruler who’d inherited a Republic on the verge of bankruptcy and a city center that had just been devastated by fire. He had to set up government in his own house while the Doge Palace was being rebuilt, and much of his own personal fortune went to rebuilding the palace and the Basilica di San Marco.
After an active two years in office, the doge resigned (some books say that he ran away in secret in the middle of the night) and went to a Benedictine monastery in France and later lived as a hermit in a forest. He died in 987 and was declared a saint 40 years later.
One of the things that Orseolo did for Venice was order the first sections of the Pala d’Oro from Constantinople. He also built a hostel for pilgrims who were traveling to the Holy Land and that’s where the church of San Gallo comes in - it was the chapel for this hostel which was originally in Piazza San Marco next to the campanile. In 1581, the hostel was moved to the current location which was land owned by the Orseolo family, and the hostel was converted into an almshouse for poor unwed women. The church was remodeled in 1703 and eventually, the rest of the religious complex was demolished to build the Bacino Orseolo (the famed parking lot for gondolas) and today, only this little church survives.
Inside, San Gallo still has its marble altars but there's no art in them - the church's painting by Tintoretto is now in the Museo Diocesano.
The exhibit I saw in December 2008 was a large mosaic collage called “Codex Vitae - La bellezza della vita” by artist Anna Lin Moor. You can see it on the floor of the church in photo below. It's an interesting work inspired by the Tree of Life mosaic in the Basilica di San Marco combined with images of DNA.
A few days after I visited the exhibit, the acqua alta rose into this church and after the water receded, there were people inside drying the mosaic collage with hair dryers. I felt bad for the artist. I guess it's not a good idea to put anything on the floor in Venice. :)
The Orseolo Coat-of-Arms shows a couple of strange looking bears dancing (?) with their tongues sticking out. You can still see this image around Venice in various places.
And here's a cool painting - a view of campo San Gallo with a cat sitting on the roof of the church by artist Carl Borgia.