I’d read about this Renaissance church and seen a few photos of it, and I was so excited to finally see it in person. What a weird little church, tucked away in a small courtyard right behind the apse of the Basilica di San Marco. It mystifies me as to why they felt the need to build another church in this location!
San Teodoro was built in 1486 by Giorgio Spavento (an architect sometimes credited for the famous spiral staircase, Scala Contarini del Bovolo). The little church is behind San Marco, and its right side is attached to the back of the Doge’s Palace. The brick façade was originally covered with frescoes which are long gone, and the doorway is surrounded with some fine floral carvings. The mosaic above the door shows San Teodoro (St. Theodore) fighting the dragon; this mosaic was moved here from the demolished church of Santa Maria Nova.
In the 16th century, architect Jacopo Sansovino built a huge buttress to support San Marco; this thing runs right into the front of the little church. Embedded in the buttress is a fascinating collection of stone and marble fragments from various restorations of San Marco over the centuries. A stones of Venice collage.
In “Another Venice,” Jacopo Fasolo describes this little courtyard:
“The hotchpotch effect is a perfect example of the Venetian expression “andar per le fodere,” that is reaching hidden areas by following secret paths, thus heightening the visitor’s sense of discovery and expectation.” He speculates that this area was a secret passage for the doge and his entourage, perhaps for security reasons after a couple of doges were assassinated while on procession around the city. Perhaps the doge felt the need for a small and secret church too?
The Fasolo book is wonderful, by the way, full of info about lesser-known places along with nice watercolors by the author.
This little church of San Teodoro is not to be confused with the long-gone cathedral of San Teodoro, dedicated to the Republic’s original patron saint, a Byzantine warrior-saint who fought a dragon like St. George. After the Venetians stole the body of San Marco in 829, Theodore was demoted and his church was demolished to build the much larger basilica though parts of the original church ( a marble wall and some stones, perhaps) are preserved in the Chapel of St. Isidore in San Marco.
Anyway, this church wasn’t open, and I don’t know if or when it ever is. I did find a photo of the interior on Flickr and it looks pretty cool inside. Looks like someone is still using it as a church too.