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Santa Maria Maddalena


One of two churches in Venice dedicated to Mary Magdalene (the other is on the island of Guidecca), this Cannaregio church was founded in 1222, but the one we see today dates from an 18th century rebuilding over top of the medieval church.

It’s a Neoclassical church, round on the outside and hexagonal inside. There was some resistance towards round churches in Venice (Palladio’s plan to build the Redentore round was squashed), but that all changed after Santa Maria della Salute when "round" came into vogue in a big way.

The architect was Tomaso Temenza, a scholar and historian of Venetian architecture who built very few buildings. La Maddalena was built in 1760-89 and was a parish church for a few decades. The Venetian Republic fell to the French, the church was closed in 1820, and then at some point in the 19th century, a demolition order was issued. Gianantonio Selva (Temenza’s student and the architect who built the opera house La Fenice) fought the order and saved the church, but its bell tower was demolished in 1881.

For a while the church was an oratory used for weddings and today, it’s open occasionally for exhibitions. When I visited it several years ago, some kind of business convention was going on inside. In December 2008, the church hosted a collection of nativity scenes/crèches/presepi from all over Italy, including an amazing one in which the Nativity takes place in an incredible miniature Venice. You can see it here on YouTube (thanks to A Lover of Venice for the link).

Most recently, the church was used as an exhibit hall for Le Biennale 2009. Blog friend AnnaLivia took some great photos of the interior (love the contrast between the architecture of the church and the modern art on display).


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Comments (10)

LB :

Very cool church! I hadn't seen that one before. We have a round church in Boston. I always thought the reason it's round was so that no one can hide in the corners when the collection plate gets passed around! ;)

Thanks for that amazing link on YouTube! I saw that crèche in January 2009 but I was so stunned to find this church opened that I didn't even take pictures! When I go back in May, I will explore the back of it. I never actually went all around it. Still so much to discover!!
Take care!


Very interesting, Annie. And I love AnnaLivia's photos of the interior, so light and bright.

I wonder what was behind the pre-Salute resistence to round churches?


Nous y étions à Noël mais avons à chaque passage raté l'ouverture...ce sera pour une prochaine fois!Bonne journée
Martine de "Sclos"

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I also found your post very interesting. I really enjoyed looking at Annalivia's photos. It was interesting to learn about the resistance to building churches that are round. I didn't know that part of history. I loved the Maria Salute church partly because it was round and so wonderfully different.

Thanks so much for sharing these great links.

LB, I love your theory about avoiding the collection plate. :)

AnnaLivia, there's a capitello on the back of it - I haven't seen it yet. The relief inside is in Rizzi and A Lover of Venice sent me a photo of it, so I too want to walk all the way around next time I'm there and see that shrine.

Sandra, about round churches...part of it was because pagan temples (like the Pantheon) were round, so the powers-that-be thought it was better to have cross-shaped churches rather than round ones. It's interesting that they finally broke free of their worries about that.

LesiDee, I hope you find it open next time you're there!

Kathy, thanks for your comments. :)

Very interesting. The photos of the creche were exquisite with its detail. The round church and its history was enlightening as well. The detail of the 'all seeing eye' brought back visions of "angels and demons"...m


I must check my journal from when we took the girls to Venice, I have a notion we got inside this church. AnnaLivia's interior photos look familiar. But that was nearly three years ago, so my memory could be playing wishful thinking tricks on me!

This church reminded me so much of the church of San Barnaba. I thought it looked very similar, including the eye over the door.

Loved seeing the beautiful creche video with the miniature Venice. It even had two women from Burano working on lace. Very realistic!


The Church of San Barnaba does not have an eye over the door, though. There are two large columns either side of the door of both churches, but that's about it.

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