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November 1, 2012



Ognissanti means “All Saints” which is a dizzying concept. It covers all the bases, for sure. And it’s a happy accident that I'm writing about this church today on All Saints’ Day!

The history of this church begins in the mid-15th century when a group of nuns from the convent of Santa Margherita on Torcello moved to Venice to escape the malaria epidemic overtaking that lagoon island. They established a small convent in a Dorsoduro neighborhood in the parish of San Trovaso.

The nuns brought a miracle-working image of the Madonna which attracted miracle-seekers giving alms, and soon the nuns had enough money to enlarge their convent and build a church. They first built a small wooden church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and All Saints (Vergine Maria e a Tutti i Santi) in 1472 and then later the church we see today, which was consecrated in 1586. The facade looks very similar in shape to another convent church built in the same century, Santa Croce on Giudecca.


Like many Venetian nuns, the Ognissanti sisters were not without scandal. Paolo Giordani (Venice) reports that in 1505, it was discovered that the abbess and several nuns were all pregnant by the same priest. Virgins of Venice shares another sad story. In 1610 the Patriarch of Venice visited the convent to investigate reports that some of the nuns were hoarding chickens in their living quarters so that they didn’t have to share the eggs. He ordered the abbess to slaughter all the chickens and serve them to the convent at large, as a reminder that all food was communal not personal property. Poor nuns, poor chickens!

I was standing under the barco (nuns' gallery) when I took the photo below.


In 1806, the religious complex was suppressed, and the church was stripped of its art treasures and closed. Its Coronation of the Virgin by Veronese was taken to the Accademia where it remains today. The nuns moved to the convent of SS. Biagio e Cataldo on Giudecca (that convent was later destroyed to build the Mulino Stucky factory).

Then in 1810, nuns from the demolished Capuchin convent in Castello moved to this convent and brought some new art. Later in the 19th century, the convent closed again and was converted into the Ospedale Giustinian, a geriatric hospital, and the church became its chapel. Today, the former hospital houses public health and social work offices, and clinics. In 2001, Giampaolo Onesto published a book about the restoration of this church.


Ognissanti is so pretty inside with lots to look at. I visited for evening Mass, and there were two Venetians in attendance, the priest, and me. Both of the Venetians got up to do readings during the service. The priest had good vibes, and the church is worn but warm. I’d like to visit again in the day time when the light is better – I walked around when Mass was over but couldn’t see the art very well.

The interior of the three chapels in the photo below are covered with some colorful frescoes, including one of the Last Supper above the high altar. Some photos of the frescoes are here and for a really good look inside Ognissanti, check out this video of a 2011 Mass. You can see the frescoes, some nice close-ups of the altars, and all the charming clutter inside this church.


Here’s another video of the Ognissanti choir performing Jacques Arcadelt's Ave Maria.

I didn’t visit the sacristy and it’s on my wish list since I read about it in Secret Venice. The sacristy is decorated with 17th century carvings brought from the island church of San Clemente in the late 19th century. The current priest of Ognissanti, Father Carolo, has written a book explaining the mystical symbolism of the designs in the inlaid wood.

The apse of the church faces Rio Tera Ognissanti. Whenever you see "rio tera" that means that you're walking where a canal was filled in. So at one time, this church had canals on two sides but today, only one.


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November 15, 2012

San Pietro Martire

San Pietro Martire

Many people visit Murano to shop for glass, but there are a couple of churches on the island that are well worth a visit. One is the Basilica di SS. Maria e Donato and the other is this church (these are the two remaining parish churches on Murano). Like Venice, Murano is a cluster of islands with its own Grand Canal of sorts; it's larger than you might think as you can see in this lagoon photo taken from the International Space Station.

San Pietro Martire was founded in 1348 and originally dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. For over four centuries it was the church of an adjacent Dominican monastery. The original church was destroyed by fire in 1474; it was quickly rebuilt and in 1511 was rededicated to a 13th century Dominican priest/saint from Verona, always called St. Peter Martyr to distinguish him from the more famous St. Peter the apostle and first pope. That second church is the church we see today which is a large brick structure with both late Gothic and early Renaissance elements. The church has a wooden ceiling inside and of course, elegant Murano glass chandeliers which are a nice contrast to the old wood and the folk art frescoes above the arches.

San Pietro Martire

The monastery was largely demolished in 1840, but you can see remains of the cloisters in the Corte de la Chiesa behind the church, where there's also a vera da pozzo that dates to 1348 when the place was founded. There was a locked gate the day I was there; I would have liked to have gotten a closer look at that well-head.

San Pietro Martire

The campanile was built in 1498-1502 and is visible from many parts of Murano. Looks like it tilts a little bit.

San Pietro Martire

Murano wasn’t immune to the suppression and destruction of churches that happened in the 19th century after the fall of the Venetian Republic. At one time there were at least 18 churches on this island, but today there are only three active churches plus a couple of oratories.

San Pietro Martire and its monastery were closed in 1808, and the church was stripped of its art. But amazingly, the church reopened very quickly, in 1813, and was redecorated with some of the best art from other suppressed and destroyed churches on Murano. So today, you can see works by Tintoretto (Baptism of Christ), Veronese (two small paintings, one of St. Jerome and one of St. Agatha), and Giovanni Bellini.

San Pietro Martire

The two paintings by Bellini are the Virgin in Glory with Eight Saints (1510-1515) and The Barbarigo Altarpiece (1488), commissioned by Doge Agostino Barbarigo who can be seen kneeling in front of the Madonna in the painting. At one time this painting was in the doge’s apartment, but he bequeathed to the Murano convent, Santa Maria degli Angeli, and it ended up in San Pietro Martire.

Also worth seeking out if you’re a fan of musician angels like I am is the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints by Giovanni Agostino da Lodi. The Madonna is lovely and the little angels adorable.

And check out the 17th century carvings by Pietro Morando in the sacristy, described by EV Lucas in A Wanderer in Venice:

“It is an odd room, with carvings all around it in which sacred and profane subjects are most curiously mingled: here John the Baptist in the chief scenes of his life, even to imprisonment in a wooden cage…and there Nero, Prometheus, Bacchus, and Seneca without a nose.” See a photo of one of these carvings on Yvonne’s blog.

San Pietro Martire

One of the most interesting attractions in this church is its ancient icon of the Madonna (photo below). I know nothing about her, but the residents of Murano pop into this church often, light a candle and say a prayer in front of her, and then leave without looking at any of the church’s more famous art. She’s in the chapel to the right of the high altar.

San Pietro Martire

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