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.
Above the door to the campanile, there used to be a 13th century relief with one of the oldest existing images of the lion, symbol of the Venetian Republic. Like many of the most ancient Veneto-Byzantine lions, this one is a “leone in moleca” (a crouching lion who resembles a crab). In 1967, this lion was moved to the Museo Correr.
Jan Morris (The World of Venice) calls it the eeriest lion in Venice, “less like a crab than a kind of feathered ghoul.” Venezia Museo says that its face looks more like a Pekingese dog than a lion! Another interesting bell tower guardian, for sure.
Sant’Aponal has been closed since at least 1984. It’s now city property used for municipal archives (marriage certificates and stuff) so it might not even look like a church inside anymore. But even though you can’t visit this church, it’s worth stopping by to check out the sculpture on the façade and also have a look around the campo.
From Campo Sant’ Aponal, you can enter the sotoportego where the shrine of the sleeping pope is, one of the most fascinating shrines in Venice.
Also take a look at the little building in between the church and the campanile. The upper story was the Scuola del Tagliapietra, the guild of stonecutters; they had a chapel with a magnificent altarpiece by Bartolomeo Vivarini, now in the Accademia. There’s a relief on the building with four saints above the name of the scuola.
The first photo in this post was taken in 2010. The two below were taken in 2007 and 2008. I'm sure I'm not the only person who visits Venice and takes the same photos over and over again. :)
Those of you getting ready to visit Venice soon, please let me know if the scaffolding is still on this bell tower!