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What's Going On?

"There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear..."

Dorsoduro 103 or 108

I love a good mystery and of course, Venice is full of them. Bert of VDP and I have been emailing about this shrine and as Bert noted, we have more questions than answers. Maybe someone else can shed some light into the intriguing scene on the relief inside this shrine.

There are three characters (from left to right)....a naked man sitting down, a naked woman standing up facing him, and a clothed bearded gentleman with his hand on the woman's head.

Dorsoduro 103 or 108

Both my Capitelli book and Venezia Museo identify it as a "Purgatorio" scene in which St. Peter (?) is trying to get a reluctant woman to leave Purgatory. The book does have a "?" next to St. Peters name and as Bert noticed, the bearded guy doesn't appear to be holding the keys that usually identify St. Peter.

A Lover of Venice captions it as "Carnal Love Behind Bars, Dorsoduro." Perhaps the woman is so carnal that she doesn't want to leave Purgatory?

Then Bert noticed that PreserVenice identifies the scene as the Creation of Eve. But look at Bert's photo below...the naked guy's hand is inside her belly and she looks pregnant. Not part of the Adam and Eve story as far as I know.

Any ideas?!


You can find this shrine on Rio Terra ai Saloni in Dorsoduro.

A few more of Bert's close-ups (thanks Bert!)~


In this one below, she does seem to be pushing the saint away~



***Lyrics at the top of the post are from the Buffalo Springfield song called "For What It's Worth." :)

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Comments (23)


What an intriguing mystery! Is there any tradition in Venetian street shrines that draws on classical mythology?

I suppose if they're always shrines, they would tend to be Christian. But perhaps this is an exception and these are figures from Roman or Greek myth.


Do you think the man's hand is inside the belly? I think it has broken off. Could the man and woman be Abraham and Sarah and the other figure God giving them Isaac in their later years? Abraham can't believe she's pregnant so pats her belly. But they don't look old, do they?


Love that song :)

Cool shrine and fun mystery! I'm wracking my brains to see if any scripture references come to mind, but...nada.

First of all, I know it's been a while, and so glad I stopped by, I guess blogging and visiting blogs had fallen out of my routine and I am trying to get it back:)

What an interesting shrine! I have no clue what it is representing,but if definitely seems that the woman is pregnant.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, this is an interesting mystery. I have no idea and would be very interested to read if someone has the answer. I love a good mystery, so will check back on this post...

Wonderful photos...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Sandra, I haven't seen a shrine that doesn't have Christian imagery and/or characters. But it's possible that this was originally a piece of street sculpture turned into a shrine (and put behind a protective gate).

Andrew, the more I look, the more I think you're right...it's a broken-off hand, not going inside of her. I can't wait to take a closer look at this one next time I'm there...the saint might be holding something in his right hand that could be a clue.

I like your Abraham/Sarah theory but as you said, these two don't look old. Plus, I don't think Abe/Sarah hung around naked, did they?!

Anne, if you think of anything, please let me know!

Candi, long time! It's good to hear from you. I hope all is well.

Kathy, thanks! I'd love to find the answer to this one too.

I looked around a little bit yesterday to see if there's a story in Dante about a woman refusing to leave Purgatory but couldn't find anything.

Lloyd Harris:

Hi Thanks for a great blog. I am reading it avidly before going to Venice in May. In an early blog you refer to wanting to go a mass with Gregorian chant at San Gorgio Maggiore. Did you find if that there was mass sung in that way. A reviewer on Trip Advisor says it is sung at 11.00am on Sundays. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks Lloyd

Hi Lloyd, thanks!

I haven't yet made it over to San Giorgio Maggiore for that Sunday morning mass. The Patriarch of Venice website also says that mass "con canto gregoriano" happens on Sunday at 11 AM. Would love to hear about it if you go.

Is this your first trip to Venice? May is a wonderful time to be there. Have a great time!


Yes, let us know Lloyd. We've always been disappointed with everyday church music in Venice. The UK has a tradition of cathedral schools to provide excellent choirs, so we're rather spoilt.

Andrew, the only memorable music I've heard in a church service was in San Marco on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. There was a choir up in the galleries - you couldn't see them at all but the sound was amazing.

Other than that, the music has been disappointing or non-existent.


There is a promise of Canto Gregoriano at San Simon Piccolo, but it turned out to be the man playing the organ and another man, both singing. What I'd call a duet rather than a choir!


Re the man's hand: I do not think that the hand has broken off. It is going straight into her belly, with a clean almost straight line where it disappears. If it were not going into her belly, it would be lying across it, and, being one piece of stone with the belly, would be very unlikely to have broken off, and, if it had, there would be rough stone on the belly, which there isn't.
But I await further news from Annie and anyone else.
I think the Purgatory theory comes from the impression of flames around the woman, but I think the 'flames' are her hair. And why would anybody be reluctant to leave Purgatory to go, presumably, to Heaven with St Peter?

Hi Bert, world's smallest choir, perhaps? At one point, word was that San Simon Piccolo was the only church in Venice that still celebrated mass with the old Latin rite...is that still true?

Thanks for the info about the hand. I know next-to-nothing about Purgatory but perhaps the woman would rather stay with the naked man than go to heaven?

But can you get pregnant in Purgatory? Questions, questions...


Let's ring that doorbell and ask if they know.

Andrew, ha! Please put that on your assignment list for September. :)

Seriously though, I'd hope that the people living in the house would know the story...


Much as I love reading your blog, I do not feel confident enough to ring a stranger's doorbell.

OK, I know what I'm going to see, tomorrow!

Re: vespers at San Giorguio Maggiore, I have head they were disappointing, but that's a subjective judgement, of course.

I went to San Marco at 5 pm 2 Sundays ago; the singing was ethereal. I'll go again this Sunday .. there is singing/chanting every fortnight while I'm here. The thunder of the organ was what roused my spirits to new heights.

Ciao to all lovers of Venice.

Andrew, no worries at all. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it either.

Maybe Yvonne will go ring the doorbell for us?!?

Yvonne, I've been keeping an eye on your blog - sounds like you're having a wonderful time! Take care of Venice for us and drink a spritz for me.

OK, here's what I can tell you after a visit today. The arm IS broken off, his hand would have been embracing her curvaceous waist! The "Saint" has his hand on her head, as if in a benediction. She has very long hair.

A elderly lady came along who has lived across the street since she was a child. She thought it was the Madonna, but didn't know which Saint, or if it was a saint, or any story connected to it.

I did ring the doorbells of the Corvi Mora Coloni .. no one answered, sorry. (One of the benefits of age, I have very few qualms about ringing doorbells, if the occasion calls for it.)

What a mystery!

Yvonne! What a trooper you are!

Thanks so much for this great investigative report. So the arm is broken off? And Bert is right that it's long hair not flames.

No offense to the neighborhood lady but I feel pretty certain that it's not the Madonna - she's never shown naked, I don't think.

Anyway, thanks so much and have a great weekend!

For what it's worth I think I'd have to agree with, well, not exactly "The Creation of Eve"--which is usually depicted in a different manner--but "The Presentation of Eve to Adam" by Mr Big.

The long beard of the standing figure and the manner in which He seems to be bestowing a parting benediction upon her as she steps toward or He presents her to the seated figure are some factors that make me think this.

Also the fact that the seated figure is not simply seated but is depicted in a peculiar posture that seems to be more than simply Mannerist showmanship. His rear elbow actually rests upon something behind him & his twisted posture suggests not strength but the awkwardness of rising or awakening from a supine position. As when Adam is supposedly wakened from his slumber and presented with Eve.

That's all I can come up with--but I should go see it in person!

Wow Steven, thanks - I'm convinced!

I hadn't really thought about the position of the seated guy but everything you say makes perfect sense.

If you go see it in person and have any other insights, please let us know!


I think Steven's cracked it. Look at the prominent ribs on Adam. I'm sure this is to show where Eve came from. It seems so obvious now. Thanks Steven

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 21, 2011 9:48 AM.

The previous post in this blog was The other Ponte di Rialto shrine.

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