Another Venetian church with a miracle-working Madonna legend, this church is unusual in that it reincarnated after a long period of being closed (it was shut down by the French along with so many others in the early 19th century and then reopened in 1952 in a much smaller form).
The full name of the original church was Santa Maria della Celestia (Assunta in Cielo), dedicated to Mary of Heaven and nicknamed La Celestia. The first church (along with a convent and cloisters) was built in 1119-1239 and was one of many Venetian convents filled with rowdy and sometimes scandalous nuns.
In the 14th century, two noble-born Venetian nuns asked their sea-faring brothers to bring them a miracle-working icon of the Madonna from the East. The icon was supposed to be delivered to the church of SS. Apostoli, but horrible storms whipped up and forced the guys to abandon ship, leaving the icon on board. The unmanned boat ran aground in front of the church of La Celestia, and this was considered to be a miracle and a sign, and so in 1341, the icon was placed over the entrance to La Celestia in a grand ceremony. This is the second Venetian legend that features a Madonna icon driving an unmanned boat – the other one is connected to the church of San Marziale. I’d love to know what happened to the La Celestia icon.
And there's a funny story about the La Celestia nuns. In 1569, their church was virtually destroyed by an explosion in the nearby Arsenale, and they decided to rebuild it in a new modern style inspired by the Pantheon in Rome – round with a dome. Work began and had proceeded quite far and just as the dome was about to be lifted into place, the nuns changed their minds and decided that they wanted a more traditional church with a Latin cross plan. I can imagine the architect and builders saying “arghh!” but it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, right?!
In 1810, the church and its campanile were torn down, and the convent became barracks for the Austrians and later became a school and then archives. In 1878 the nuns returned and in 1952, a new church was built for them in a 15th century building in the vicinity of the demolished church in this very quiet part of Castello.
Today the church is known as Cristo Re alla Celestia and it’s the church for the Franciscan Nuns of Christ the King who live in the adjacent convent. You can see the gallery that connects the church to the convent in the photo below, and the church’s little bell tower in the first above.
Opening Times (from the Patriarch of Venice website)
Hours open to the public:
Monday to Friday: 7.00-11.30, 15.30-16.30
Sunday. 8.30-11.30; 15.30-16.30
Orario feriali : 6.30
Orario festive : 8.00