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October 5, 2012

Santa Maria dei Penitenti

Santa Maria dei Penitenti

There are a number of churches in Venice that are “chiuso al culto” (closed for worship) because they have fallen into disrepair. This small church, built as part of a larger complex to house “fallen women,” has been closed for some time but there’s restoration work going on now!

In the Venetian Republic, there was an impressive array of social services available to help the needy – orphans, widows, the elderly and even prostitutes. Most of these services were provided not by the government, but by the many scuole and other charitable organizations funded by wealthy Venetians.

Prostitution was a big business in Venice, and there were several institutions built to house the women when they left the trade. Not all of the so-called “fallen women” were prostitutes who had repented though, some of them were women who had been involved in public scandals. There was a home (ospizio or hospice) for these women close to Ss. Giovanni e Paolo that had become too crowded, and so in the early 1700’s, patriarch Giovanni Badoer (with the help of donations from wealthy Venetian women) purchased a 14th century building close to the church of San Giobbe and Ponte di Tre Archi in Cannaregio.

The property was expanded to house the women and in 1730, work began on this church (sometimes known as Le Penitenti). The buildings on either side of the church are part of the hospice, and in this Google Earth view, you can see how large the complex is, with the buildings surrounding cloisters behind the church.

Santa Maria dei Penitenti

The architect was Giorgio Massari, who also built the church of the Gesuati and Palazzo Grassi. As you can see in the first photo above, the façade was started but never completed due to lack of funds. Supposedly there are still Corinthian columns in the cloisters that were intended to decorate the façade. There are a several churches without facades in Venice, and most of them were built in the 18th century when the Republic’s economy was in decline and it became difficult to find wealthy donors to complete the work. This church doesn’t have a campanile; instead, there are Roman bells on the roof which you can see in the photo below and also in the video I’ve linked further down.

Santa Maria dei Penitenti

Lorenzetti (Venice and Its Lagoon) says that the interior of the church is harmonious and was once decorated with some nice paintings, including a Virgin in Glory with Lorenzo Giustiniani by Jacopo Marieschi. The church had a nuns' gallery so that the female residents of the hospice could attend Mass unseen by locals from the neighborhood.

In fact, the entire complex was designed so that these “redeemed women of questionable morals” (Another Venice by Jacopo Fasolo) could live self-sufficiently and isolated, much like nuns, with gardens, chickens, and wells for collecting water in the cloisters. In order to live in Ospizio dei Penintenti, the women had to be over 12 years old, they could not be pregnant, they had to have lived in Venice for at least one year, and they must have given up their sinful life for at least 3 months. I guess there was an application and review process?

Santa Maria dei Penitenti

After the fall of the Republic, this ospizio remained open and fallen women from Casa del Soccorso were relocated here. Because it was a secular organization and not a convent, it wasn’t suppressed like so many religious sites were. It continued to serve its original purpose for some time and then morphed into a home for the elderly in the 20th century. It closed in 1995 in a state of “advanced degradation.”

But in June 2009, a 12 million Euro restoration began, scheduled to be completed in 2013. Here’s a link to an article and a description of the plan:

“Site is designed with a rich functional purpose, more public services on the ground floor for the neighborhood (clinics, rehabilitation, gym), day center for common tasks, Alzheimer's day care center for 18 users, with garden and courtyard. More oriented towards the private sector, however, the two upper floors, with residences for 90 frail elderly people.”

And here’s a 2009 news story video with views of the interior of the complex as the restoration began. What a fantastic space, and what a big undertaking to restore it! I don’t know if the church will re-open too but I hope that it will. Look forward to seeing the scaffolding come down!

Santa Maria dei Penitenti

October 10, 2012

San Luca

San Luca

After the fall of the Republic, there were so many drastic changes to Venice’s churches and religious institutions. During the decades of the 19th century when Venice was under French and Austrian rule, many churches, convents, and monasteries were closed, some of them were demolished, and the number of parishes in Venice was reduced from 70 to 30.

So the church of San Luca is unique in that it’s been a parish church since it was founded in 1072 and remains one today. San Luca has changed in appearance since it was founded, however – it was rebuilt and expanded in the Gothic era, and then rebuilt again in 1581. That’s the church we see today, more or less –part of the façade fell off in 1827 and was replaced, and more restoration work was done to the interior in 1881. The church faces a canal and that might have something to do with the façade falling off – even today, you can see the rising damp on the front of the church.

San Luca must have had some status early on since some of the relics brought to Venice after the 1204 Sack of Constantinople were given to the church. San Luca (St. Luke) is the patron saint of artists, and for centuries, the Scuola dei Pittori (guild of painters) had an altar in this church.

San Luca

The first time I visited this church was on a Sunday morning for Mass. Attendance was good and it wasn’t just elderly people, there were families with children there too. When the service was over, people lingered, talking to each other and to the priest. There was a real sense of community which was nice to experience as I walked around looking at the art.

San Luca

German artist Carlo Loth, who spent most of his life working in Venice, is buried in San Luca. The church has a “Miracle of San Lorenzo Giustiniani” painted by Loth, as well as paintings by Palma il Giovane and Heinrich Meyring.

The church’s masterpiece is on the high altar, Veronese’s Virgin in Glory with St. Luke, painted in 1581. There's a lovely frescoed ceiling by Murano artist, Sebastiano Santi (1789-1866) who also worked on the decorations inside La Fenice and Museo Correr. See the San Luca ceiling here.

My favorite thing in this church is a 15th century Gothic wooden statue of the Madonna Enthroned. A wonderful piece of art (first altar on the right). I also saw fossils in the floor of this church.

A memorial plaque on the outside of San Luca, dedicated to the members of the parish who died in the first world war~

San Luca

Continue reading "San Luca" »

October 13, 2012

PhotoHunt: Water

There are several water gardens on display at my local garden center. One of them is filled with water hyacinth - I enjoyed seeing it grow and bloom this summer.

This first one was taken in May. Such funky looking plants!

pond plants

And then in July, the water hyacinth bloomed...

water hyacinth (explored!)

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend.

See a list of upcoming Saturday Photo Hunting themes on Gattina's website here.

October 18, 2012

San Bartolomeo

Founded in 840 and originally dedicated to Greek saint Demetrius, this church was rebuilt in 1170, became a parish church, and was rededicated to the apostle Bartholomew (the church is known as San Bortolomio in Venetian dialect). Several renovations since then, combined with the dense development of this central campo on the San Marco side of the Rialto Bridge, have resulted in today’s church which is engulfed by surrounding shops and is easy to miss. Look for the door (it’s all you can see of the church from the campo).

San Bartolomeo

It’s ironic that the church is so hidden because its campanile is one of the most visible in Venice and appears in zillions of photographs of the bridge.

San Bartolomeo

In the 13th century, this became the church for Venice’s thriving community of German and Eastern European merchants, whose warehouse and offices were in the nearby Fondaco dei Tedeschi (once the Venetian post office, now a Benetton store). During the Renaissance, the Germans decorated their church with some very fine art; they also hired Giorgione and Titian to fresco the outside of their warehouse (those frescoes are long gone except for some faded fragments in the Galleria Franchetti in Ca’ d’Oro). The best art from the church is gone too.

The wealthy German confraternity commissioned a painting from their countryman, Albrecht Durer, who lived in Venice for several years and completed this painting while there in 1506. This work, The Feast of the Rosary (or Rose Garlands), is one of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance, and the inspiration of Bellini (who befriended Durer while he was living in Venice) can be seen in the jewel-like colors. The painting was an immediate sensation, so much so that it only remained in San Bartolomeo for 100 years and was sold to Hapsburg Emperor Rudolph II in 1606; the German merchants sold it for 900 gold ducats which was over ten times more than they paid Durer for it. It’s now in the National Gallery in Prague.


The church’s organ shutters painted by Sebastiano del Piombo are still in Venice but now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia. In medieval and Renaissance times, organ doors were a prestigious commission for an artist – the ones del Piombo created for San Bartolomeo depict four larger-than-life saints. The artist was a native Venetian who studied with Bellini and Giorgione and then moved to Rome where he befriended Michelangelo and spent the rest of his life; there are only a few of his works in his hometown.

Today there are some lavish but rather typical altars, several of which house paintings by Palma il Giovane, the late Renaissance artist who is so very well-represented in the churches of Venice. Probably the church’s greatest remaining treasure is its organ, built in 1775 by famed Venetian organ builder Gaetano Callido, who also built organs for the Basilica di San Marco and the Frari. Callido was so esteemed that the Republic honored him with a tax exemption (quite an accomplishment in Venice, I’d say). You can see the organ and the altars on this interactive map. There are some nice paintings in the Chapel of the Annunciation to the right of the high altar. I also like the painting of Archangel Michael in the third altar on the right.

In November 2011, the church was a venue for an international conference, "The Church of San Bartolomeo and the German community in Venice," the first in a series of conferences about the churches of Venice.

San Bartolomeo

The ancient bell tower was damaged in an 1688 earthquake and rebuilt in 1754. Its Baroque onion dome is easy to recognize and is a helpful landmark when you’re learning your way around Venice. Walk past the doorway to the church and turn down a very narrow calle to find the door of the campanile, which is protected by the grotesque head of some kind of bearded creature with horns. Is his tongue sticking out or does he have a weird chin?

Whatever he is, he’s doing a good job scaring the evil spirits away from this bell tower. Other scary campanile guardians are on the towers of Santa Maria Formosa, San Trovaso, and Santa Margherita

San Bartolomeo

San Bartolomeo

Continue reading "San Bartolomeo" »

October 24, 2012



Here’s another “chiesa chiusa al culto” (church closed for worship). And closed for anything else too, as far as I know. Sometimes these closed churches pop open for a Biennale exhibit or such, but I haven’t heard of Sant’Aponal being open at all for anything.

I’ve walked by this big Gothic church so many times. I’d love to know what it looks like inside. I wish that Venice would arrange to open some of these deconsecrated churches, even if it was only for a few weeks a year (preferably in the winter when I like to go to Venice). My guess is that some of them are in such poor condition, they aren’t safe for visitors.

Sant’Aponal was founded in 1034 – the money came from families who had moved to Venice from Ravenna, and so the church was dedicated to St. Apollinaire, Ravenna’s patron saint. The saint’s name was crunched to “Aponal” in Venetian dialect. The church was rebuilt in the mid 15th century, and that’s the nice solid brick Gothic building we see today.


Sant'Aponal was a parish church until it was closed during the great suppression in 1810. The church was stripped of its art and altars, and for the next few decades, was used for various secular purposes (homeless shelter, jail, blacksmith shop). The church’s painting by Tiepolo (The Madonna of Carmel and the Souls of the Purgatory) was taken to Paris by the French, cut into two, sold in two lots which were later reattached, and ended up in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

Then in 1840, Sant’Aponal itself was put on the auction block for sale. A guy named Angelo Vianello bought it and then resold it to some devout people who managed to get it back in business as a church, at least for a little while. It was reconsecrated and redecorated.

It makes me dizzy to think about all these churches opening and closing, and so much artwork moving around. When Sant’Aponal reopened in 1851, a few of its altars were returned and it also inherited the main altar from the closed church of Santa Giustina in Castello. At some point, the Renaissance portal and sculptures by artist Antonio Rizzo were brought to Sant’ Aponal from the closed church of Sant’Elena, but those were returned in 1929 after Sant’Elena was reconsecrated and reopened.

Some sources credit Antonio Rizzo with the fantastic Gothic carvings on the façade of Sant’Aponal today, but that’s a mistake. These reliefs are of “unknown provenance” according to the Patriarch of Venice website. They probably came from some other closed or demolished church. Above the rose window, there’s a Crucifixion circa 14th century. Above the door, Christ on the Cross with Mary, John the Baptist, and many other saints, dated 1294.


About the campanile and its restoration – I photographed it in 2007, 2008, and 2010, and the scaffolding is exactly the same in every photo. No signs of progress at all. Here’s a photo taken in 2004 where you can see what the bell tower looks like. It’s one of the oldest towers in Venice (9th century Veneto-Byzantine foundation with Gothic additions made during a1464 restoration) so maybe the scaffolding is what’s keeping it upright.

You can also see the tower in this drawing of Campo Sant’Aponal by Giacomo Guardi (1764-1835), son of the more famous Francesco. At that time, the church had an actual portal.


Continue reading "Sant'Aponal" »

October 27, 2012

PhotoHunt: On a Shelf

I like this theme. Gonna be fun to see what everyone comes up with. I'm got a few street shrines in Venice.

This shrine has shelves on each side with flowers on them. On the metal front is an inscription that says that the shrine was erected by Bello Angelo as an ex-voto (votive offering) in gratitude for the danger he survived on January 21, 1957. I'd love to know the story!

Castello 1903

This shrine is sitting on a shelf.

San Marco 1455

This shrine has a shelf below for flowers. The inscription on this one translates to "Our Lady of Peace, Pray for Us."

Cannaregio 2685

I like these flowers made of glass beads. I bought some of these when I was in Venice one time.

Cannaregio 2685

The light inside this shrine is so big, it's blocking the view of the Madonna. I bet this one looks cool at night when the light's on.

Cannaregio 2685

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend.

See a list of upcoming Saturday Photo Hunting themes on Gattina's website here.

This page contains all entries posted to Churches in Venice in October 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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