One of the eight San Magno churches and therefore one of the oldest in Venice, San Salvador is well worth a visit not only because of its great art collection but also because it’s a perfectly elegant space. The Renaissance church we see today is probably the third church that’s been on this location; legend has it that one of the earlier incarnations had an iron grille for a floor and you could see the water rushing by below. Today in front of the main altar, there’s a hole in the floor with a clear cover, but it’s dark down there and I couldn’t really see very much besides old stones.
The interior is gorgeous and clean with amazing multi-colored marble floors, some of the best church floors in Venice. I’ve already mentioned my favorite things….Titian’s Annunciation, the relics of San Teodoro, and the cloisters next door, but there’s much else to see, including several impressive funeral monuments for various Cardinals and Doges, and also one for Caterina Cornaro, the queen of Cyprus who gave her island to the Republic.
Pretty much every church you visit in Venice has someone in attendance; old guidebooks call them “sacristans” but today they are more like security guards in most cases. But San Salvador has several ladies who seem more like docents, and they love to talk about their church. One of the ladies told me that San Salvador is the second most important church in Venice after San Marco – a debatable claim but I admired her loyalty and love for the place.
Anyway, when you visit, ask one of the ladies if you can see the sacristy – it’s an incredibly beautiful room with 16th century frescoes of trees, flowers, and peacocks. A nice and surprising change of pace, like walking into a secret garden. These frescoes were whitewashed over when the French suppressed the monastery and have recently been uncovered and restored.
Titian's Transfiguration on the high altar. The altar to the right is where San Teodoro's relics are.~
San Salvador has one other thing that I really want to see and didn’t think was possible but now there’s hope! The Basilica di San Marco has a famous Byzantine gold and jewel-encrusted altar screen, the Pala d’Oro. San Salvador has one too, a gilded silver Gothic work called the Pala d'Argento– it’s behind the Transfiguration on the high altar and traditionally has only been unveiled during the week of August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration. I know that I’ll never go to Venice in August so I’d pretty much decided I’d never see this screen in person.
But just last year, the altar screen was restored and on display for several weeks in September, then sent to Berlin for an exhibit. It returned to Venice on February 13, 2011. The San Salvador website says that once it returns, it will be covered by the Titian on weekdays; does that mean it will be on view on weekends? I hope so.
Other works include nice organ doors painted by Francesco Vecellio, Titian’s brother – these were among his last works before he made a career change from artist to soldier. There are a couple of beautiful statues by Alessandro Vittoria (saints Roch and Sebastian) in a chapel that’s charmingly dedicated to the Guild of Sausage-Makers. And there’s another great painting, Supper at Emmaus, which has a great story and mystery that I wrote about here.
Frescoes over the side entrance to the church; these are also attributed to Titian's brother~
Austrian cannonball embedded in the facade~
A remarkably green and healthy looking plant growing from the marble of the facade. I love seeing plants growing in improbable places like this. Reminds me that nature will prevail! ~
Another view of the facade~
Aerial view of the floors (I didn't take this photo!)~
To visit this church: It’s easy to find (located on the San Marco side of the Rialto Bridge just beyond Campo San Bartolomeo). Admission is free.
9-12 and 3-6:30 on Monday-Saturday
3-7 pm on Sunday
The afternoon hours are shorter (4-6:30 pm) in the summer (June-August).
Mass times are 7 pm weekdays, and 10:30 am and 7:30 pm on Sundays.
The church’s website has lots of info and photos (and pages in English). They have concerts here sometimes and post those on the website (they haven't posted any 2011 dates yet).