Basilica di San Marco Archives

October 24, 2007

Basilica di San Marco by Renoir

Renoir - Piazza San Marco

French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir visited Venice in 1881 and painted several scenes including this one of Piazza San Marco. He did a fine job of capturing the Basilica’s overall sense of color, I think. He even makes the pigeons look nice!

This painting is in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

February 14, 2008

Hearts in Venice

Since there’s not a church in Venice dedicated to San Valentino, I'm going with a “heart” theme instead.

San Marco

This heart is on the floor of Basilica di San Marco and marks the place where the heart of Doge Francesco Erizzo is buried. His body is in the church of San Martino but his heart is here, as he requested in his will. There’s no name, just the little doge hat on top. He was doge from 1631-1646, a traumatic time in Venetian history that included 16 months of plague that killed 46,000 people, reducing the population by a third. Not many doges are buried in San Marco so I guess he must have been much loved to have his wish honored.

I read about this heart in a book, but it was many visits to San Marco before I finally stumbled across it and for some reason, it really moved me when I saw it for the first time, maybe because that church has my heart too. Anyway, if you want to see it, it’s in the high altar area to the left of the saint’s crypt.

San Felice

Another heart, this one on the floor of the church of San Felice. I assume someone’s heart is buried here too but I don’t know who.

Continue reading "Hearts in Venice" »

February 15, 2008

More church floors


These photos are from Basilica di San Marco – I love the peacock!

The Basilica’s floors are truly magnificent even though parts of them are covered up to protect them from tromping tourists like me. The oldest sections are the Byzantine designs with animals, flowers, birds, and mythological creatures while the amazingly complex geometric designs came later. The best view is upstairs in the Museo where you can look down from the balcony facing the high altar.

San Marco

San Marco

Continue reading "More church floors" »

February 21, 2008

Basilica facade

San Marco

It's challenging to photograph Basilica di San Marco - when you get far enough away to get the whole thing in the photo, you can't see the incredible array of colors on the facade. To do it justice, I'd have to take about 10,000 photos like the one above and piece them together somehow.

Sometimes I prefer a church's interior to its exterior or vice versa, but I love the Basilica inside and out. I don't mind standing in a long line to get inside because there are so many beautiful things like this on the facade. I've probably been in this church 40 times so far and I'm still seeing things for the first time.

I met a very sweet Italian couple from Turin who had been coming to Venice on holiday every year for close to 50 years. They are church fanatics too, and they told me that the first place they go everytime is to the Salute to light a candle and give thanks for being in Venice again. I love that tradition and decided to do it too, but I go to the chapel of the Madonna Nicopeia in San Marco instead.

April 25, 2008

Festa di San Marco


Today (April 25) is San Marco's feast day and for centuries, this day was celebrated by Venetians with grand processions and pageantry in honor of St. Mark. It's still celebrated today, at least in the Basilica, where the Patriarch celebrated Mass at 10:30 this morning in honor of St. Mark the Evangelist and Patron Saint of Venice.

I don't know if there are still any other festivities - I checked the Piazza San Marco webcam this morning, and it looked like a normal rainy spring day in Venice. Checked it again later, and the sun was out, the orchestras were playing, and the scaffolding around the campanile looked to be growing.

April 25 is also the Festa del Bocolo (Festival of the Blooming Rose) where it's traditional for Venetian men to give a red rose to all the women they love. That could get expensive for some guys! There are a couple of legends associated with this tradition retold (and charmingly translated) on Venice Explorer.

May 12, 2008

Campanile di San Marco

san marco

In my December restoration report, I mentioned that they were putting scaffolding around the San Marco bell tower, and I found a couple of articles that explain what they are doing.

This article states that, “The bell tower was built after the existing 16th century structure collapsed in 1902. But the new tower was found to contain a fissure, discovered in 1939, which is very slowly spreading. The work will involve wrapping a titanium belt around the tower's foundations, between 1 meter and 3.5 meters (3 and 11 feet) below the ground, at a cost of 6 million euros.”

Another article says, “Experts were called in after a survey revealed the 99-meter bell tower is sloping by seven centimeters, a sign that its foundations - thousands of wooden posts driven into unstable ground - are failing to provide adequate support. Surveyors also reckon the foundations of the tower are cracking by a millimeter a year.”

The first article says that the restoration work will take a year and a half while the second says it will take two years. It’ll be interesting to see – maybe we should have a “guess the completion date” contest. I’m betting on three years. Someone on Slow Talk said that the tower is still open to visitors, but I don’t think I’ll be going back up until all scaffolding is gone and that titanium belt is in place!

Below is an old photo of the rubble after the 1902 collapse. There’s an interesting eyewitness report about this collapse reprinted on Venice for Visitors.


The golden statue on the top of this campanile is Archangel Gabriel, and legend has it that when the tower collapsed, the angel miraculously survived the fall and landed gracefully right in front of the main door of the Basilica.

May 27, 2008

St. Luke, patron saint of artists

nikopeiaSt. Luke (San Luca) is the patron saint of artists because supposedly he was a painter himself. Legend has it that he painted a portrait of Mary from life, with her actually sitting there, making it the equivalent of a photograph, I guess. Some versions of the legend say that he did the painting on a wooden table top that Joseph and Jesus had made. The story goes that Mary infused the painting with her blessings and grace, turning it into a miracle-working icon that would carry her power across the centuries.

Now I’m not sure if Luke did one painting of her or many, but there are churches all over the globe that claim to have a St. Luke painting of the Madonna, and these images have been revered for hundreds of years with lots of stories about miracles, healings, and deliverance from wars and disease. In the Middle Ages, people made pilgrimages to visit these paintings which were just as venerated as the relics of any saint.

Well, Venice has not one but three icons that were supposedly painted by St. Luke. One is the Madonna Nikopeia in the Basilica di San Marco (that’s her in the photo above), the second is the Madonna de Pace icon in San Zanipolo, and the third is the Virgin Mesopanditissa icon on the high altar of Santa Maria della Salute.

These icons were legendary before they were brought to Venice (and actually, that’s why the Venetians stole them). The Nikopeia was brought to Venice from Constantinople in 1204 as part of the spoils from the Fourth Crusade; she quickly became the most revered image in the city and she still is today. It's interesting that most of the Masses celebrated in the Basilica are held in her chapel rather than in front of the high altar where San Marco lies.

The San Zanipolo icon came from Constantinople in 1349 about one hundred and fifty years after the Nikopeia. The Salute icon was brought from a church in Crete in the late 1600’s shortly after the church was completed. Crete was a Venetian territory at that time so technically I suppose they didn’t really steal that one, but they were on the verge of losing Crete to the Turks (and Venice had a beautiful new church that needed a Madonna icon).

All three of these icons are very interesting but in truth, they don’t look like they were done by the same artist, and Mary looks quite different in each of them. Plus most historians estimate that they are closer to 1000 years old rather than the 2000 they would be if they were really painted by Luke. But it's a nice legend, and it seems that in the Middle Ages, if you had a miracle-working icon of the Madonna, you should be worried that the Venetians were going to steal it from you. :)

Other places that claim to have a St. Luke Madonna include churches in Rome, Bologna, Germany, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Egypt, and India. There’s also one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The most famous is probably the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in Poland. The only one of the Venetian icons that is a Black Madonna is the one in the Salute (photo below isn't great since I didn't use a flash but you can kinda tell what she looks like).

Icon Salute

May 29, 2008

Going to Mass...

San Marco, side door

A few weeks ago, Girasoli asked me if I go to Mass when I'm in Venice. Thanks to her for this blog topic!

Yes, I do go when I’m there, almost everyday. I’m not Catholic and really, I know very little about Catholicism although I’m learning a lot as I research these churches. I admit that my motives weren’t the highest when I went for the first time – I just wanted to be in the Basilica di San Marco after hours so that I could sit down and take the whole place in without being stuck in that crowded, roped-off “tourist herd” line that runs through that cathedral.

But then I discovered that I really enjoy the service. I like the music and the incense and the part where everyone shakes hands and wishes each other peace. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should be going or not - I always sat on the back row and tried to be invisible, and I never went up for the communion part, thank goodness. Then I found a copy of this “Memo for Tourists” in one of the churches (it's also published on the Patriarch of Venice website) which basically says it’s fine for non-Catholics to attend Mass as long as we act right and are dressed properly, turn off our cell phones, and don’t receive Communion. So I’m more relaxed about going now.

I do have a kinda funny, kinda embarrassing story to tell. One afternoon I went into the Basilica and it seemed that Mass was starting over in the chapel of the Madonna Nikopeia. It wasn’t a time when Mass usually happens, but I thought it might be some special holiday Mass so I went over and joined in. There were lots of people there, all very dressed up. I sat there for probably 10 minutes or so, daydreaming and enjoying the music, and all of a sudden, I looked up at the altar and saw a BRIDE!

Well, I was mortified. It’s supposed to be good luck to see an Italian bride, but I have a feeling that the luck doesn’t happen if you crash the poor girl’s wedding. So I quietly crept out of the chapel and then when I got to the front door of the Basilica, I was locked inside! At that point, I was struggling not to laugh out loud and I know my face was bright red. Fortunately I found a security guard who let me out – he was very nice about it and was laughing at me too.

BSM mosaic detail

Continue reading "Going to Mass..." »

June 2, 2008

Going to Mass, part two (Pala d'Oro)


During my most recent trip, I went to Mass in San Marco on December 8 for The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Basilica was completely full (they even had video screens for people in the “no view” seats, and something about the sight of modern technology in that ancient church really amused me), and the Mass was conducted by the Patriarch of Venice who only does a few Masses a year on high holy days. The Mass lasted for an hour and a half, and I was not in the least bit bored because I was in my favorite church in the world, the music was gorgeous, all the pomp and circumstance seemed holy and beautiful, and it just felt great to be there.

The Patriarch (Angelo Cardinal Scola) has a lot of charisma, and he even gave messages in different languages. His English message was something about “the mystery and beauty of this great cathedral – may it give you hope” which of course it does, because I love that church so much! And then he said, “Have a nice stay in Venice.”

But the best part was the fact that the Pala d’Oro, that amazing golden altar screen, was turned around to face the people (most of the time, it’s flipped around so that they can charge us a Euro or so to go back and look at it). It's only turned around on high holy days and this was the first time I'd seen it like that. Beautiful!


Continue reading "Going to Mass, part two (Pala d'Oro)" »

July 22, 2008

Archangel Michael and the Dragon

Archangel Michael and dragon

Continuing with the dragon theme, here's a mosaic in Basilica di San Marco. This one has a loop in his tail too but not a double spiral like the dragon-snake.

December 16, 2008

Acqua Alta

The acqua alta that I experienced last week was nothing compared to the major flood that happened on December 1, which was one of the worst in Venice's history. What I experienced was fairly typical for winter, I was told, although it was a bit unusual for it to happen so many days in a row. Flooding in Venice is connected to the tides (and the moon and the winds) and it's not like a bunch of water pours into Venice and just sits there for days at a time, it rises and falls with the tides.

So even though the water was not that high, boots were essential. I noticed that only the people without boots used the high-rise sidewalks and the Venetians (and others) wearing boots would just plow on through the water. So that's what I did too, although there were a couple of times when I came to a place where I couldn't tell how deep the water was. I thought about what Girasoli said about how it would be easy to walk off a fondamenta into a canal (!) and I'd turn around and find another route. Most of the time, I could tell how high it was (and usually it only came up to my ankles) although a few times, it got dangerously close to the top of the boots! If I hadn't had the boots, I would have been very limited as to where I could go (the high rise walkways are set up for the major sites and also for the vaporetto stations, but they are not all over the city).

An early morning scene of Piazza San Marco. This water was gone by noon and then came back later that night.


This one was taken from inside the Basilica. I was standing on a riser in the atrium, and you can see how much water was inside the church. It's such an eerie feeling to look down on those ancient floors and see them underwater. The people with umbrellas outside were walking on the high-rise sidewalks.

inside the basilica

This one was taken from the vaporetto and you can see how the Grand Canal has overflowed into the Rialto Market area on the right.


Sloshing along a calle. You have to kinda shuffle a bit so that you don't splash your neighbors or yourself!


Continue reading "Acqua Alta " »

March 6, 2009

PhotoHunt: Space


This week's theme is "space."

It's gonna be fun to see what everyone does for this wide-open theme!

No surprise, but I've gotta go with "Sacred Space" and the amazing mosaics in the Basilica di San Marco, the cathedral of Venice and my favorite church in the world.



You can find more Photo Hunters and join the hunt here.

Have a great weekend everyone and Happy PhotoHunting!

April 12, 2009

Easter Procession

This 1898 watercolour by Maurice Prendergast shows the Easter Procession inside the Basilica di San Marco. Easter is one of the high holy days when they turn the Pala d'Oro around to face the congregation, and I bet that the church will be full today for Mass.

Coming soon: another post about Prendergast and an upcoming show of his work at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice.

prendergast easter in san marks

I plan to spend part of this holiday weekend "in Venice" with Guido Brunetti via the latest Donna Leon mystery, just released this month. There's not much that's better than having a new book that you really want to read!


Here's a BBC interview with Donna Leon and Toni Sepeder (author of Brunetti's Venice, a book of walking tours based on the mystery series).

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!

April 20, 2009

Maurice Prendergast

Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924) was a Canadian-born American painter whose work spanned the transition from Impressionism to Modernism. I found this press release about an upcoming exhibition, Prendergast in Italy, that sounds quite interesting especially since it will be at the Guggenheim in Venice next fall and winter. I like his watercolors but have never seen any of them in person; if I end up returning to Venice later this year, I’ll definitely go see this show. Most of the paintings included in the exhibition are of Venice but there are also views of Rome, Siena, and Capri.

The exhibition opens on July 18, 2009 at Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, MA, where it runs until September 20. From the WCMA website:

"Prendergast in Italy traces the footsteps of Maurice Prendergast as he painted his way through Italy in 1898-1899 and through Venice again in 1911. Approximately seventy watercolors, oils, and monotypes by Maurice Prendergast will be on view, along with related letters, prints, photographs, films, guidebooks, and sketchbooks to situate the work within the new visual culture that Americans had embraced by 1900."

Here's the schedule after Williamstown:

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (October 9, 2009-January 3, 2010)
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (February 14-May 9, 2010.)

A few of his Venetian scenes (I don't know if these are in the show or not, they are just some that I like).


Campo Santa Maria Formosa



Continue reading "Maurice Prendergast" »

April 29, 2009

IL Capitello

Il Capitello

This tiny ancient chapel is known as "Il Capitello" and is inside the Basilica di San Marco, near the left aisle, and houses a miracle-working cruxifix of Byzantine origin.

I found this vintage photo on Flickr where the Architecture Library of Notre Dame has posted thousands of old photos from around the world. I was excited to find it because I'd never seen a photograph of this little chapel before.

Continue reading "IL Capitello" »

September 24, 2009

San Marco by Emerik Fejes

Emerik Fejes San Marco

A friend visiting Zagreb, Croatia, sent me a postcard with this painting of Basilica di San Marco on it. I love it! The card is from The Croatia Museum of Naive Art which has a number of paintings in its collection by the artist, Emerik Fejes. This painting was done in 1957.

Emerik Fejes (1904-1969), like many naive or folk artists, didn't start painting until late in life. He was a comb and button-maker who also collected postcards which became the inspiration for his paintings, most of which depict great buildings and cityscapes from around the world. According to Wikipedia, his painting technique was unusual in that he used matchsticks instead of brushes. And of course, I was charmed by this little detail:

"He also preferred painting with his cat under his arm." Wikipedia has a sweet photo of him with his tuxedo cat.

Emerik Fejes

He looks like a nice guy. I love these self-taught artists who make art just because of some inner inspiration, not because it's their career or because they hope to make money on it. Many folk artists aren't discovered until after they've died, but Fejes had several exhibitions and some success and acclaim while he was still alive. Good for him. I'd love to see some of his work in person.

A few other works below:

Continue reading "San Marco by Emerik Fejes" »

September 25, 2009

PhotoHunt: Twisted


This week's theme is "Twisted."

I've got one from Venice and one from North Carolina this week. First is a sculpture in Durham Central Park here in NC. Definitely twisted.

001 (2)

Next is this mosaic that's on the side of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. One of thousands of architectural details on this amazing church, this is probably close to a thousand years old but looks kinda modern to me.

San Marco detail

San Marco

Find more Photo Hunters and join the hunt here.

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend.


March 15, 2010

The Pillars of Acre


Historians agree that these two beautiful columns are stolen property but don’t agree about who the Venetians took them from. They are called the Pillars of Acre (pili acritani) because for centuries, it was believed that the Venetians stole them in 1256 from the church of St. Saba in the port city of St. John of Acre in what is now Syria. They reside in front of what used to be the ceremonial entrance to the Basilica di San Marco, and most books describe them as exquisite examples of 6th century Syrian carving.

But recently, scholars have decided that they were really stolen from Constantinople in 1204 as part of the vast looting of the Fourth Crusade, and that they came to the Basilica in the same batch of plunder that included the Four Horses and the Madonna Nikopeia.
Who knows? They are certainly gorgeous. Those Venetian crusaders had quite an eye for beauty.



Continue reading "The Pillars of Acre" »

March 29, 2010

Venice in 1911


A cool old photo showing the rebuilding of the campanile of San Marco which had collapsed in 1902. That wooden scaffolding looks very interesting. I checked the Venezia webcam today and it looks like they are still doing foundation work on the tower; it also looks like part of the Basilica is covered over. And so it goes.

March 30, 2010

Corte Michiel

Castello 4593

A gorgeous shrine with an interesting connection to the history of the shrines of Venice.

This corte in Castello was the birthplace of Doge Domenico Michiel, who ruled Venice from 1118-1130. He was a medieval hero who led the Venetian fleet to victory in a number of decisive Mediterranean battles, defeating the Egyptians, taking control of Tyre, and greatly expanding Venice’s territory and trade routes.

In 1128, Doge Michiel decreed that lamps should be lit each evening in all the city’s shrines, a public works project of sorts that made Venice the first city in the world to have street lights. The decree specified that parish priests were responsible for lighting the lamps each night and that the government would pay for the oil and the lamps. How cool to think about wandering around Venice after dark with the only lights being those in the shrines.

Castello 4593

Continue reading "Corte Michiel" »

May 7, 2010

PhotoHunt: Mother


This week's theme is "Mother."

A few images of the Holy Mother taken in Venice, Italy.

A mosaic on the facade of Basilica di San Marco~


Street shrine on a pink building~

shrine in Venice

You can find more Photo Hunters and join the hunt here.

Thanks for visiting and have a great weekend. Happy Mother's Day weekend to all.


January 28, 2011

PhotoHunt: Standing


This week's theme is "Standing."

There used to be over 100 bell towers in Venice but some of them collapsed or were demolished; today there are 66 still standing. The most well-known is this one, the campanile di San Marco; it's the tallest in the city. This tower collapsed in 1902 and was rebuilt.

san marco

There's a golden statue of the archangel Gabriel standing on top of this tower, holding the annunciation lilies. Legend has it that when the tower collapsed, the angel statue survived and was found more or less intact in front of the doors to the basilica. I've often admired it from afar gleaming in the sunlight but had never gotten a good look at it until recently when I found this photo of it in an old book.

archangel gabriel, san marco

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend.

You can find more Photo Hunters and join the hunt here.


September 30, 2011

PhotoHunt: Covered

This week's theme is "Covered."

The Basilica di San Marco in Venice is covered with marble, mosaics, and funky carvings. I never get tired of looking at it, and no matter how many times I visit, I see something new each time. Here are a few details from the exterior~

San Marco

San Marco

San Marco

San Marco detail

San Marco

Thanks for visiting and have a happy weekend. You can find more Photo Hunters and join the hunt here.


December 30, 2011


Happy Holidays! I hope that everyone is having a wonderful time. And best wishes for a peaceful 2012.

This 13th century carving of the Nativity scene is above the Porta dei Fiori entrance to the Basilica di San Marco. An interesting scene, rather non-traditional in that Jesus looks more like a little boy than an infant, and Mary's posture is unique. :) I think those are little sheep peering out of the bottom of the manger.


Continue reading "Nativity" »

April 10, 2012

M is for Marco

San Marco, to be more specific, the cathedral of Venice.


Below is an artist's reconstruction of what the church looked like after it was built (in approximately 1063 AD), before the Venetians covered it with marble, mosaics, and sculpture.


There's one section today where you can still see the underlying brick work.

San Marco

But most of the church looks like this~

San Marco

I didn't know that marble came in so many different colors~

San Marco

San Marco

Everytime I visit this church, I see something new. I never get tired of looking at all the beautiful details.

San Marco

San Marco

Visit the home of ABC Wednesday to find more Round 10 participants!


May 8, 2012

Q is for Quadriga

The Triumphal Quadriga are better known as the Four Horses of San Marco. Quadriga is a Latin word for a chariot drawn by four horses, but it can also refer to the horses themselves. While these horses aren't Venetian in origin, they have come to be just as loved in Venice as the famed lion.


There are many interesting stories about these "miraculous stallions," as writer Jan Morris calls them, and things we do and do not know. We do know that the Venetians stole them from Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade and brought them to Venice

Not known: where they were made. Were they created in ancient Greece or in ancient Rome? It's believed that before they were taken to Constantinople, they resided on Trajan's Arch in Rome, but it's possible that the Romans looted them from Greece.

Carbon dating done recently indicates that they were created around the beginning of the 2nd century BC, which means that they were already 1,400 years old when they moved to Venice over eight hundred years ago.

They are often called the bronze horses or the golden or gilded horses, but in fact, they are made mostly of copper (between 96.67 and 98.35% copper, according to the Basilica website). Each horse weighs 1,700 pounds.

ReginaldBarratt 1907

During their first 50 years in Venice, they were displayed at the Arsenale, but then they moved to the Basilica di San Marco and were mounted above the main entrance. After these pagan horses went to church, they became an allegory for the power of the four evangelists as well as a symbol of the power of the Republic.

But then in 1797, the Venetian Republic fell to Napoleon, who stole much art work from Venice, and the horses were taken to Paris for 15 years or so. After the defeat of Napoleon, they were returned to Venice and the basilica. This painting below (Return of the Horses) by Venetian artist Vincenzo Chilone was completed in 1815, the year that they returned home.

return of the horses

But their traveling days weren't over yet. During both World Wars, the horses were removed for safe-keeping. During WWI, they were sent to Rome, and during WWII, they were stored in a warehouse on the mainland. The poignant photo below shows them leaving Venice in 1942.

And then in 1982, after so many centuries outside, they were moved inside the church to protect them from the effects of pollution and the elements. The horses that we see outside today are boring and lifeless copies. To see the real horses, you must pay a few Euros to go upstairs to the Museo di San Marco and it's well worth it. They are magical creatures, and they love visitors. :)

horses 1942

From Jan Morris' "A Venetian Bestiary"~

“So subtle, elegant and powerful were their forms, so true to life and yet so full of suggestion, that like all great works of art they generated a magnetism far beyond their substance.

The Venetians recognized their divine quality from the start, and so the Golden Horses came to the lagoon…they were the ultimate loot, and they were placed on the ultimate exhibition shelf above the doorway of the Basilica di San Marco, looking out across the Piazza. It is probable that when they hauled their chariot the outer two horses tossed their heads outwards, the central two inwards. The Venetians mounted them instead in separated pairs, each pair of animals inclining their heads towards each other, and this perhaps gave them a gentler look, less tempestuous but more compassionate, like four friends.”

Beloved friends they became indeed to the citizens of Venice, and symbols to every foreigner of the Republic’s unshakable fortitude. They were the most reassuring of all the devices that gave such all-confident splendor to the city…”


Visit the home of ABC Wednesday to find more Round 10 participants!


February 15, 2014

PhotoHunt: Vertical

The campanile of San Marco is the tallest bell tower in Venice and is a strong vertical that's visible from many parts of the city.

San Marco

San Marco

San Marco

San Marco

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend.

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

April 10, 2014

Madonna Nikopeia

This week's PhotoHunt theme is "stones."

Here's a Venetian mystery concerning precious stones and a beautiful icon of the Madonna.

The Madonna Nikopeia can be found in the Basilica di San Marco. The Venetians love her and even when the Basilica is filled with tourists and seems more like a museum than a church, you will see people praying to the Nikopeia in her chapel to the left of the high altar where St. Mark lies. I always visit her soon after I arrive in Venice - she's one of my favorite things in that city.

She came to Venice in 1204 as one of the many treasures the Venetians stole from Constantinople when they sacked that city during the infamous Fourth Crusade. Even before she arrived in Venice, she was believed to work miracles and was much revered by the Byzantines who would carry her along as they marched into battle (Nikopeia means "bringer of victory"; it's sometimes spelled Nicopeia or Nikopoeia).

Legend has it that she was painted by St. Luke.

Jan Morris wrote,

"the Nikopeia, the most holy prize of empire. If she served the Byzantine emperors well and long, she served the Venetian Republic better and longer. The Venetians adopted her, like the Byzantines, as their Madonna of Victory; before her image supplicatory masses were held at the beginning of wars, masses of thanksgiving after victories."

For several years, I wondered about her jewelry and its story. The photo below shows what she looks like today. There are precious stones embedded in the frame around the icon, but none on the icon itself.

Madonna Nikopeia

But up until about 1980 or so, she looked like this (the image was adorned with many gem stones and pearls, votive offerings from Venetians whose prayers she had answered).

What is that large blue stone above her head? Gorgeous! It looks like she's wearing a diamond necklace and even Baby Jesus has a necklace.

Madonna Nikopeia

At some point, the jewelry was removed from the icon and moved into the Basilica's Treasury where it is on display. Behind plexiglass, unfortunately for photographers!

Madonna Nikopeia

Why did they remove the jewelry? It was a mystery to me, but not long ago I might have found the answer while reading Jan Morris' "The Venetian Empire - A Sea Voyage".

Morris writes that in 1979, the Nikopeia's jewels were stolen by two young Italians (from the mainland, not from Venice) who managed to hide at closing time and get themselves locked inside the church overnight. They rushed out the door with the gem stones when the Basilica opened the next morning.

The thieves were later caught and the jewels were returned. My guess is that the Basilica decided to move them into the Treasury for safe keeping instead of returning them to the icon. And they must have restored the icon which was probably damaged when the jewelry was removed.

Jan Morris also shares a great personal story about the theft:

"I happened to be in Venice on the day of the theft and went along to the Basilica to attend the Mass of repentance and supplication that the Patriarch immediately held. Never was history so poignantly played out. A profound sense of sadness filled the fane, nuns sighed and priests blew their noses heavily, as they mourned the desecration of that particularly cherished piece of stolen property."

Madonna Nikopeia

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 an archive of all entries posted to Churches in Venice in the Basilica di San Marco category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Art is the previous category.

Churches is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


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