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San Gallo

San Gallo

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. :)

San Gallo

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.

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Comments (18)

Thank you so much for this post! I'd never seen the inside of this oratorio! It's beautiful. It's sad for the artist that the piece got damaged. The acqua alta is another thing I never encountered so far... I had snow... can't have it all ;)

AnnaLivia, thank you. I'll trade you acqua alta for snow anytime. :) I would love to see snow in Venice someday!

My first experience with acqua alta was in May 2004 and it was a full moon, high tide, and thunderstorm day. I have to admit that it was pretty interesting (but the high water only lasted one day). But this past December when it kept happening day after day...well, I got a little bit tired of it. It didn't ruin my trip but it did slow me down. Plus, I got tired of wearing the boots. :)

Very interesting post,Annie,thank you. It looks like a neat little church, and I liked learning about the history the Doge.
Too bad about the piece of art though.

Candi, thanks. There aren't that many interesting Doges, to be honest, but he is one of them. I still haven't found out exactly what he did to become a saint though. :)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I really enjoyed reading this wonderful post about San Gallo. I also enjoyed reading about it's history and about Doge Pietro Orseolo. How great that you were able to visit inside last December. It looks really simple but cool inside. Nice Mosaic on the floor. And that is an interesting coat of arms. :)

Thanks for this really interesting read this morning Annie. Have a great day!

Kathy, thanks. The mosaic was really nice. And I agree about the coat of arms - I can't quite figure out what it means!


Annie, this IS an interesting Doge and it sounds as if he had quite a social conscience.

The mosaic collage looks really lovely -- I hope it wasn't damaged by the high water (and everything that's in the high water, eeww!)

It looks like a lovely small church/oratory!

Sandra, he does sound pretty progressive for 1000 years ago, doesn't he? I love the story about him fleeing from politics in the middle of the night. :)


Hard to imagine how a doge could run away in secret - I love that thought! The mosaic is very beautiful, I see the DNA helix running up the centre, very cool. Thanks for this interesting post, Annie!

I haven’t seen this church/oratorio but I find it very charming. I’m fond of small churches and this one has a vera da pozzo that matches the church’s small scale. It would be interesting to find out why the bears in the coat of arms seem to be dancing. Love the colorful postcard by Carl Borgia.

i think when we went there they had some sort of film showing on the ceiling. it was really surreal!

Hi Caryn,

A few years ago, San Gallo was one of the exhibit halls for the Biennale and there was some kind of video installation there. I bet it was cool to get to see that!


The installation for the Venice Biennale 2007 was Bill Viola's. It really was something, three plasma screens were mounted on the altars each showing a person coming out of darkness, walking through what was an invisible wall of water to stare at the viewer, and then turns back and passes through the waterfall again...the artwork was about our connection to the dead, and the fragility of life. honestly, a beautiful piece, yet haunting...

Rob, thanks so much for the description. It sounds like an amazing show - I wish I'd seen it.


I remember wanting to check out San Gallo while walking back and forth during our stay at Locanda Orseolo. I always wanted to peek inside, so I was glad to finally do it through your photo! Maybe when we're back in 2010....

Hi Rebecca, I did the same thing - walked by this church everyday as I was leaving Orseolo! I was excited to finally find it open. Glad that you are headed back to Venice in 2010!

John Lynn Gullickson:

I'm so happy to have come across this. I am hoping to visit Venice soon. A couple of years ago I started reading a history of venice and was absolutely fascinated. As a footnote I was baptised at St Galls in Tintah, Minnesota. My pen name is Peter St Gall. Do you have more pictures of the inside? Detail of the altar, ceiling, etc...?

Hi John, thank you for your comment. I hope that you are able to visit Venice soon. This is the only photo of the interior of San Gallo that I was able to take (right after I took this one, they told me that photos weren't allowed).
Cheers, Annie

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 23, 2009 11:27 AM.

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