This detail from a Canaletto painting of Piazza San Marco shows the Renaissance church of San Geminiano as it looked for 250 years before it was demolished by the French. It’s just so odd to see a church there facing the Basilica di San Marco.
Today there’s a memorial in the pavement close to the entrance of the Correr Museum, with a drawing of the façade and an inscription that notes that the architect, Jacopo Sansovino, built the new church of San Geminiano in 1557, and it was demolished in 1807. It’s interesting that this memorial slab was installed in 1937, 130 years after the church was destroyed. Gone but clearly not forgotten.
Sansovino’s church was at least the third incarnation of this one. Legend has it that San Geminiano was founded in 554, making it one of the most ancient churches in Venice. I learned from Secret Venice that there’s another memorial slab in the Piazza that commemorates a different and older version of the church, which was demolished in the 13th century as part of a Piazza San Marco expansion project. We don't know what this church looked like but best guess is that it was Byzantine. Thanks so much to Bert for sharing his photo of this plaque which can be found in the vicinity of Caffe Florian.
The church was moved further back when it was rebuilt and in de Barbari’s map of 1500, you can see that the next incarnation of the church had a free standing Gothic campanile. The Sansovino church had two small attached towers, not a free standing tower, as you can see in the 19th century etching below.
Sansovino’s son, Francesco, wrote a history and guide to Venice in 1581; here’s how he described his father’s church:
“Perhaps the most ornate in the city, being faced both inside and out with precious marbles and Istrian stone, exceedingly rich, and perfectly conceived as a structure.”
In “A History of Venice,” John Julius Norwich wrote that San Geminiano was “one of the most spectacular small treasure-houses in the city.” When the Venetians stole the body of San Rocco from France in 1484, the holy relics resided in this church for a few years until the saint's own church was built.
So when San Geminiano was destroyed, its treasures and tombs were dispersed, and not all of them remained in Venice. Sansovino’s tomb was moved to the monastery adjacent to La Salute (he was later moved to San Marco), the tomb of John Law was relocated to San Moise, and the relics of San Geminiano himself (a 4th century bishop saint) were moved to the new 19th century church of Santissimo Nome di Gesu in the sestiere of Santa Croce.
The lovely Renaissance altar and its sculptures were moved to the church of San Giovanni di Malta; you can see photos of it on AnnaLivia’s blog.
The church’s organ doors by Veronese are now in the Galleria Estense in Modena. Here they are~
The 19th century church of San Maurizio is supposed to pay homage to San Geminiano and perhaps the interior design is similar, but the facades are pretty different.