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Capella del Santo Chiodo

San Pantalon

The Capella del Santo Chiodo (Chapel of the Holy Nail) in the church of San Pantalon is such a wonderful little place. Admission to the church itself is free, but they ask for a one euro donation to visit this chapel. It's well worth it not just to see the altar that housed one of Venice’s most revered relics but also because of the amazing treasure trove of early Venetian art that’s tucked away back there.

Let’s start with the relic, the holy nail, which began its Venetian journey in the now demolished church and convent of Santa Chiara (it was in the sestiere of Santa Croce where the Piazzale Roma police station is now). How the Franciscan nuns of Santa Chiara came into possession of this relic is another charming Venetian story.

In 1270, a pilgrim visited Santa Chiara and gave the nuns a box and a ring, instructing them to keep the box safe without opening it, and to only give the box to someone who came along with an identical ring. Three hundred years passed, no one came, and I guess the nuns couldn’t take the suspense anymore and decided to open the box where they found a sacred nail used in the Crucifixion. A letter in the box revealed that the pilgrim who had brought the holy nail to the nuns was St. Louis IX, King of France, who had gotten the nail from Sant’ Elena (who had traveled to the Holy Land and found the True Cross). None of the dates in this story add up, by the way, but no worries, it’s still a great story. All that matters is that Venice ended up with an incredible relic.

When Santa Chiara was demolished, the sacred nail and its Gothic altar were moved to the church of San Pantalon. The altar is fantastic especially the little niche housing an exquisite early 14th century carving of the Deposition scene (top photo, you can click to see it larger).

I couldn’t see the holy nail and thought that perhaps it was only revealed on Holy Days, but then my UK blog friend, Andrew, told me that when he visited San Pantalon and asked to see the nail, someone told him that it had been stolen!

San Pantalon

On an adjacent wall is a glorious painting, Coronation of the Virgin (1444) by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d'Alemagna (brothers-in-law who were both part of the Vivarini workshop and often painted collaboratively). This painting was commissioned for San Pantalon’s high altar where it hung for a couple of centuries. I guess than in the 17th century when the church was rebuilt and “went for Baroque,” they moved it since it’s small and would be lost in the huge and imposing altar that’s there now. Fine with me, it’s much easier to see in this little chapel. This painting was restored by Save Venice in 1996 and it looks wonderful.

San Pantalon

And then on the opposite wall are three paintings by Paolo Veneziano. In the middle is the lovely and haunting Madonna of the Poppy (1325). I love her!

A few more photos from the chapel are below the jump (click “continue reading”).

San Pantalon

The Paolo Veneziano collection~

San Pantalon

Annunciation by Paolo Veneziano (a detail of the small panel on the left)~


In a niche next to the Coronation of the Virgin, there's a marvelous 13th century alabaster Madonna. I've posted her on my blog before but will do it again to keep it all together. I love her too. I love everything in this little chapel and can't wait to visit it again. :)

San Pantalon

San Pantalon

Coming soon, a post about the oratory of Madonna di Loreto, also in the church of San Pantalon.

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Comments (12)

What a treasure! Thank you for posting about this amazing and ignored corner of Venice. It goes first on my list now.
All these Madonnas have a special glow.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, what a special chapel. The colors of that painting are so vibrant. Great entry and I love seeing all of your photos of all the treasures that can be found here.

Thanks so much for sharing. I'm looking forward to your next entry.


What a treasure trove -- a brilliant altar and a fantastic Annunciation! Interesting yarn about the Nail from the True Cross...I wonder if the story of the theft was really a ruse to keep the relic hidden and ward off potential thieves?!

I'm beginning to realise that 3 months is just not enough time to savour what this city has to offer. I have not visited this chapel, either, so I must redress this omission.

Thank you, ma'am.

Such a great find! Need to add this one to my list of 'must sees' when I return to Venice. Thanks for the very informative post, Annie.

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I'm glad that you've added this chapel to your "must see" list.

Alistair Logan :

While in Venice I visited this beautiful old church. The paintings and carvings are amazing. The lady working in the church told me that the nail was removed by a priest for safe keeping as it was going to be stolen. It was previously housed in the gold fronted centre piece pictured in pic two above.

Alistair, thank you for your comment. That is interesting that the lady told you a different story than someone else in the church told Andrew!

The book, "Secret Venice," said that they used to reveal the nail on certain days but that they no longer do. Another Venetian mystery!

Emilio Chiodo:

My Grandfather who grew up in the Calabria region of Italy was named Santo. His wife's sir name was Cardimone.
He moved to the US after serving in the Italian Army during WWI. He lived in Bradford PA and raised his family there. He passed away in the 1980's and is buried in St. Bernards Cemetery in Bradford PA. We,have very fond memories of his stories about "the old county".

Emilio, thanks for your comment and for sharing your memories of your grandfather.

Jackie Scott-Mandeville:

Thank you for this page of pictures. I recently visited this little gem of a chapel and was totally swept away by the treasures inside.

I have copied your photos on to my own file of Venice art and your page has been most helpful in adding to my notes for my OU art exam next month.
I hope you don't mind sharing your excitement and photos with me.

Thank you Jackie, and good luck with your exams!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 4, 2011 9:47 AM.

The previous post in this blog was San Pantalon.

The next post in this blog is Oratory of Madonna di Loreto (in San Pantalon).

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