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.
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.
The campanile was built in 1498-1502 and is visible from many parts of Murano. Looks like it tilts a little bit.
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.
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.
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.
Monday to Friday: 8.00-7.00
Saturday: 11:00 to 7:00
Sunday: 12:00 to 5:00
Daily 6 pm winter, 6:30 pm summer
Sunday 8 am, 9:30 am
The Murano churches share a website: Communio.
If you go to Murano, the Museo del Vetro (glass museum) is fascinating and worth making time to visit too, by the way.
Some of the art that San Pietro Martire lost during the few years it was closed is now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia. These works have a special connection to the island so it's kind of a shame they're not in the church anymore, but at least they ARE still in Venice. Here's a list~
Polyptych Altarpiece by Andrea da Murano (artist from Murano)
Battle of Lepanto by Veronese (commissioned as an ex-voto by a citizen of Murano who took part in this naval battle)
Saints by Alvise Vivarini (part of the Murano painting family)
But it makes me sad that Carpaccio's St.Thomas in Glory is no longer in Venice.
It was part of a large collection of Venetian art purchased in Venice in 1852 by King William I of Württemberg. The painting is now in Germany in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.
A Murano citizen and owner of a glassblowing factory named Tommaso Dragan commissioned this painting and donated it to the church in 1507. The central saint is Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas, the name saint of Tommaso Dragan. The other saints are St. Mark and St. Louis of Toulouse. I love the little angels in the clouds. I love Carpaccio always!