Dorsoduro Archives

October 17, 2007

The churches of Dorsoduro

Veronese Coronation of the VirginThe sestiere of Dorsoduro includes the island of Giudecca across the canal; there are 28 churches in this sestiere, seven of them on Giudecca.

The most visible and famous church in this sestiere is Santa Maria della Salute. I wonder how many zillions of photos have been taken of this church from the Accademia bridge? San Pantalon has one of the most amazing church ceilings anywhere, and San Sebastiano is beautiful, filled with paintings by Veronese (see right). My personal favorite in this area is San Nicolo dei Mendicoli, an ancient and lovely Veneto-Byzantine masterpiece. It’s not the easiest church to find but it’s so worth the effort.

Chorus Pass churches in this sestiere are Gesuati, San Sebastiano, and Redentore.

Churches in Dorsoduro

Angelo Raffaele (San Raffaele Arcangelo)
Carmini (Santa Maria del Carmelo)
Gesuati (Santa Maria del Rosario)
Le Eremite (Gesu, Giuseppe e Maria delle Eremite)
Salute (Santa Maria della Salute)
San Barnaba
San Gregorio
San Nicolò dei Mendicoli
San Pantalon
San Sebastiano

San Trovaso (Ss. Gervasio e Protasio)
San Vio (Ss. Vito e Modesto)
Santa Margherita
Santa Maria della Carita (now part of the Accademia)
Santa Maria della Visitazione
Santa Marta
Santa Teresa (Le Terese)
Spirito Santo
St. George's Anglican

Churches in Giudecca

Le Convertite (Santa Maria Maddalena)
Redentore (Santissimo Redentore)
San Gerardo Sagredo
Santa Croce
Santi Cosma e Damiano (Ss. Cosma e Damiano)
Zittele (Le Zittele; Santa Maria della Presentazione)


Oratorio Stella Maris
San Giovanni Battista ai Catecumeni
San Ludovico Vescovo (Oratorio dell Ospizio Pruili)
Santa Maria del Soccorso

On Giudecca:

Santa Maria degli Angeli
SS. Trinita

I’m intrigued by Sant’Agnese (which has just recently reopened after being closed for decades) and San Vio (Jan Morris says that it’s only open one day a year but I don’t know which day!).

Ognissanti, Le Eremite, and Spirito Santo are on my list for December, as I think that they’re still consecrated and visitable, but there are a number in this area that are “status unknown” for now. I plan to do a lot of walking in this sestiere in December.

Update: San Vio is now privately owned and not visitable. Santo Spirito is closed for restoration.

Update 11/10: visited Ognissanti and Sant' Eufemia. Le Eremite remains closed but might reopen?

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April 8, 2008

Le Eremite


This pretty little pink church faces a quiet canal in Dorsoduro. It was founded along with a convent in 1693 by a group of Augustinian nuns from the nearby church of San Trovaso. Its full name is Gesu, Guiseppe e Maria delle Eremite (Jesus, Joseph, and Mary of the Hermits), and “hermits” in this case is a reference to nuns who lived lives of complete seclusion and prayer, often in small cells inside churches.

The church and convent were closed by the French in 1810 and then taken over in 1863 by Canossian nuns, an order that educates young women. Today this order runs a teacher training college in the former convent with 90 rooms for female university students.

Le Eremite

I’d love to see the inside of this church – various books report that the interior is richly decorated and quite a contrast from the simple facade. It’s one of those churches made for nuns, with a high altar that separates the public part of the church from the section where the nuns could come to church but remain unseen. There’s a photo of the church’s very ornate ceiling on the Canossian order’s website. The church has a large 15th century gilded wood relief of the Madonna della Misericordia. I found a photo of it on the web~


It’s currently closed for restoration – the upper window is covered with plastic, and you can also see the water seeping up the façade. A brief mention on the UNESCO website says, “The Church of the Eremite took another small step towards being able to reopen with the completed restoration of four wall paintings depicting the Miracles of St. Augustine by Francesco Pittoni with finance being provided by the Venice in Peril fund.” That “small step” was in 2002, and I don’t know what’s happened since then. Maybe this one will reopen in my lifetime!

Le Eremite

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April 24, 2008

Sant' Agnese

Sant Agnese

This Dorsoduro church has existed since at least the 11th century and has only recently reopened for public Mass. As far as I know, that’s the only way to visit it right now, and I'd really like to see the inside of this one because even though the church has been renovated and restored over the centuries, part of the original Veneto-Byzantine interior remains, as described by James McGregor in Venice From the Ground Up:

“Though it was remodeled in the Middle Ages, the original walls of the nave were never destroyed or covered over. Above the roofs of the side aisles, their wonderful pre-Gothic brickwork – a repeating pattern of steep, cusped arcades in the shape of a cursive “M” – is still visible.”

I’m always amazed by the beautiful things the early Venetians could do with mere brick and I really want to see those arcades.

Sant Agnese

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June 5, 2008

San Vio

San Vio

I was so charmed by this place when I first saw it on my way to the Guggenheim museum during my first trip to Venice. So cute and I love those stripes! San Vio is a lovely little campo and one of the very few with a Grand Canal view – the red park benches are a nice (and free) place to sit, rest your feet, and watch the world go by on the canal.

This church was founded in 912 and it's another church with a nickname – San Vio is short for Santi Vito e Modesto, a couple of Sicilian saints. In 1310, there was an attempt to overthrow the Venetian government, and the rebels were squashed on June 15, St. Vito’s feast day, and so the Republic rebuilt and expanded this church to honor and express gratitude to the saint. Decorative elements from the defeated rebel Bajamonte Tiepolo’s palazzo were removed and used to decorate the façade of the church. And every year on June 15 for the next 400-plus years, the Doge and the Senate visited this church in a grand processional parade to thank the saint some more.

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June 6, 2008

Blessed Contessa Tagliapietra

Yesterday’s article about the church of San Vio included a sweet story about the little Contessa walking on the water across the Grand Canal, and I decided to see what else I could find out about this girl.

The E.V. Lucas version of the story says that the little Contessa Tagliapietra lived in sestiere San Marco and walked across the Grand Canal to get to the church of San Vio in sestiere Dorsoduro. Well….I found a couple of other books that claim that she lived in campo San Vio and that she really walked across the canal to get to her favorite church of San Maurizio! I had to laugh. I guess it doesn’t really matter which direction she was going – it’s the “walking on water” part that really counts. I did find a few more details about her life though.

It seems that this noble born Venetian girl lived from 1288-1308, and she was a beautiful and devout child who loved to go to church everyday. When it came time for her father to arrange a marriage for her, he forbade her from going out alone (even to church), and he paid the gondoliers not to row her across the canal (the Accademia bridge didn’t exist at that time). So that’s when she walked across. One version says that she took her apron off, put it on the water and stepped on it, and it propelled her across the Grand Canal like a jet ski (well, it didn’t say that, but that’s the image I get). Another version says she walked on a thread from her dress.

The story of this miracle quickly spread around town, and marriage proposals poured in. I’m sure she was tempted to say “so there” to her father but maybe not, since she was almost a saint. She refused to marry anyone and then died at age 20.

Legend has it that the whole city came to her funeral and she was buried in the church of San Vio. She wasn’t ever declared an actual saint but instead she was beatified which gave her the title “Blessed.” And for centuries, Venetian mothers brought their newborn infants to her tomb in San Vio because it was believed that her blessing and protection would keep the children safe from drowning. It’s a nice story! But now I wonder what happened to her body when they tore the larger church down…

July 17, 2008

Santissimo Redentore

Redentore by Canaletto

This weekend (July 19 and 20) is the Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer) in Venice, a celebration of thanksgiving for the end of a 16th century Black Plague epidemic. It’s one of Venice’s most popular holidays complete with fireworks, a temporary pontoon bridge from the Zattere to the church of the Redentore on Guidecca island, feasting and celebration on boats in the lagoon, and a high holy Mass with the Patriarch of Venice at the church.

Venice was hit by numerous plague outbreaks over the centuries, some more horrifying than others, and the one in 1575-77 was particularly bad, killing a third of the population (over 50,000 people including Titian). John Julius Norwich (The History of Venice) describes Venice as an eerie ghost town during this time, since anyone who could had fled the city, no businesses were open, and people were dying right and left. Imagine all the funerals (maybe the plague is one of the reasons that Venice has so many churches?).

So in September 1576, the Doge announced that the Republic intended to build a church dedicated to Christ the Redeemer to give thanks for deliverance from this plague. Now the plague wasn’t over when they made this vow – in a way, the government was using Field of Dreams “build it and they will come” positive thinking, along the lines of “if we thank you now, you’ll make it go away.”

A government negotiating with the Higher Power is so fascinating to me, having been raised on the whole “separation of church and state” thing. It would be like George Bush (sorry, bad example but he’s what we’ve got now) going on TV tonight to announce that we are going to build a great cathedral to celebrate the end of global warming. Hey, maybe it’s not such a bad idea!


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August 25, 2008

San Nicolo dei Mendicoli

An enchanting church that is off-the-beaten path but so worth finding, this is one of my very favorites.

It took several tries across several trips to finally get inside this church. Before my second trip to Venice, my friends Susan and George loaned me their journals from a study-abroad trip they had taken with Elderhostel. George wrote that this was his favorite church of all the many they had visited, so I was eager to see it. On my first try, it was challenging to find but when I finally did, the church was closed because the adjacent canals had been drained and were undergoing repair.

Then finally in December 2006, I found it open. But the best part (which I didn’t know until I saw the sign on the door), I happened to visit on San Nicolo’s feast day (December 6). The church was all spruced up, music was playing, and it was a magical visit. So in December 2007, I made sure that I returned on the feast day. This time, I was the only one in the church except for the lady at the postcard table. I sat down on the back row of the church and then the postcard lady began singing; she had such a beautiful voice and the whole experience just blissed me out. It’s an awesome church.


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October 25, 2008

Santa Maria della Visitazione

SMdV and Gesuati

Hang on, this might be a little confusing. There are two churches in Venice with this name, and this is the one on the Zattere, that great waterfront promenade in Dorsoduro, not the one also known as La Pieta (or the Vivaldi church) that’s on the Riva degli Schiavoni in Castello.

And to make it even more confusing, this church was known as the Gesuati until the Dominicans built the larger church next door which took the name (and the best art), but the Gesuati (Santa Maria del Rosario) should not be confused with the Gesuiti (Santa Maria Assunta), another big white Baroque church up in Cannaregio. Whew!

Anyway, the photo above shows the Zattere, with this Santa Maria della Visitazione on the left and the larger Gesuati to the right. The first church on the locale was built in the early 1400’s by the Jesuate order from Siena and was dedicated to St. Jerome (San Girolamo dei Gesuati). The church was rebuilt in 1493-1524 and rededicated to Our Lady of the Visitation (which refers to Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist).


It’s a pretty little Renaissance church, though no one is quite sure who the architect was; both Mauro Condussi and Tuilio Lombardo are given credit for at least parts of the design. The Jesuate order also built a monastery with several cloisters beside and behind the church. The order was suppressed in 1668, and the Dominicans took over the complex and soon decided they needed a larger church. Instead of demolishing the smaller church, they built next door and left the older church standing, which is pretty unusual for Venice.

don orioneFor a while, the old church was a library and then the entire religious complex was suppressed by the French in the early 19th century. Santa Maria della Visitazione eventually reopened as a church and today, it’s the oratory for the Istituto Don Orione, who have turned the monastery into a conference center and “modern” religious guest house with free Wifi in the open air cloisters. I met some folks who had stayed there, and they said that it’s quite nice, spartan but clean, and fairly inexpensive considering its primo location on the Zattere. The Institute's website has a partial aerial view and also some nice shots of the cloisters. The photo to the left shows a sculpture of Don Orione that's inside the church.

There was no one in attendance when I visited this church; instead, there was a sign saying “You’re being monitored by video camera.” So modern! It’s a sweet little place. Its best painting, a gorgeous Tintoretto “Crucifixion,” has been moved to the bigger church, but it’s worth going in this one to look at the wooden coffered ceiling – a nice Tuscan (or Umbrian) Renaissance work with little portraits of 58 saints and prophets and a medallion of the Visitation in the center.

This church has a “bocca di leone” on its façade; this one is where people could lodge their complaints about sanitation problems.

Santa Maria della Visitazione

These nice monks are on the church's entrance:

Santa Maria della Visitazione

Santa Maria della Visitazione

To visit this church

8-12, 3-6 daily

Painting below by Rubens Santoro (1859 -1942)

S. Maria della Visitazione and S. Maria del Rosario, Venice


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November 19, 2008

Gesuati (Santa Maria Rosario)


This is the church that the Dominicans built on the Zattere when they outgrew Santa Maria della Visitazione. Built in 1726-43 by architect Giorgio Massari, this is one of many (too many?) big white Baroque churches in Venice. But this is probably the most refined and elegant of them all, not over-the-top or garish in any way.

It's another church that I like better from the side than from the front, but this façade is not ugly or overloaded with sculpture – it contains just four statues representing the Four Cardinal Virtues (justice, prudence, strength, and temperance). There are twin turret-style bell towers, though only the one on the right has bells.

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March 9, 2009

Santa Margherita

The mascherone (grotesque face) guarding the bell tower of Santa Maria Formosa isn't the only one in Venice; there are several others including this goofy guy protecting the campanile of the church of Santa Margherita. The church is deconsecrated and the bell tower is half of what it used to be, but the campo itself is thriving.

Santa Margherita

At one time, this was one of the most opulent Byzantine churches in the city. Consecrated in 853, the church was decorated with mosaics and had an apse covered in gold and a huge dome supported by four enormous Greek marble columns. The Byzantine church survived for eight centuries and was then rebuilt in 1687. The campanile was built in 1305 and the scary monster face added when the church was rebuilt.

SMarg tower

The best story about this church concerns a hermit nun named Bisina who in 1330, moved into a tiny cell in the bell tower and only came out once a year, on Ascension Day, to go to Mass in the Basilica di San Marco. The rest of the year, she would climb through a tiny passage in the roof of Santa Margherita and observe Mass from up in the dome.

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August 1, 2009

San Barnaba


If my nephews were writing this, they’d tell you that this is, by far, the most important and most interesting church in Venice because of the fact that it was featured in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and they would also tell you that it’s not really a church, it’s a library, and that Indy found some important clues in the “norman numerals” on the floor and that when Indy came up from underground and realized where he was, he said, “Ah, Venice!”

Because of the Indy connection, my nephews have developed an interest in going to Venice with me someday and I fear they’d be sorely disappointed when they visited this church and found no trace of the great Indiana Jones anywhere…no statue of him in the campo, no photos of him inside the church. :)

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September 4, 2009

PhotoHunt: Orange


This week's theme is "Orange."

Winter in Venice with the sun setting behind the church of San Giorgio Maggiore ~


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

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend. Happy loooong holiday weekend to those celebrating Labor Day!


March 24, 2010

San Trovaso guardian

Another scary face guarding the entrance to a bell tower, this one is truly creepy. He's found over the door to the campanile of the church of San Trovaso in Dorsoduro, and supposedly he keeps away any evil spirits who might try to enter the tower and cause it to collapse.

San Trovaso

This is the tower he's protecting:

San Trovaso campanile

For more grotesque faces on bell towers, see also:

Santa Maria Formosa
Santa Margherita

January 19, 2011

Sant' Eufemia

Sant' Eufemia

There are seven churches and two oratories on Giudecca but only a couple that are open on a regular basis...this one, and the much larger and more famous church of the Redentore. If you're going to visit the Redentore, I encourage you to walk up the fondamenta and visit Sant' Eufemia too. I actually like it's not as magnificent as the Palladio church, but there's just something very special about these small parish churches. This is a sweet one.

I spent most of a day in November walking around Giudecca and had a fabulous time. It's mostly residential (and there are LOTS of shrines!) with many charming corners and views. Giudecca is part of the sestiere of Dorsoduro but you have to take the vaporetto from the Zattere to get there.

This church was founded in 865 and dedicated to four female saints (Eufemia, Dorotea, Tecla, and Erasma) - virgin martyrs from Aquilea who worshipped with San Marco when he visited there. The church faces west, common with early churches, and even though it’s been renovated, restored and remodeled a number of times over the centuries, it still has the design of a Veneto-Byzantine basilica. Older decorations such as the 11th century columns are a nice contrast to the more “modern” stucco and frescoes added in the 18th century. A harmonious and lovely space. It reminds me of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli (though San Nicolo is hard to beat when it comes to magical small churches).

Sant' Eufemia

Sant' Eufemia

This church has a wonderful painting, San Rocco and the Angel, painted in 1480 by Bartolomeo Vivarini. The Vivarini were a family of early Renaissance artists who were from Murano and descended from glass blowers. Antonio and Bartolomeo were brothers, their brother-in-law Giovanni d'Alemagna was part of their workshop, and Antonio’s son Alvise became an artist too. They aren’t as well-known or regarded as the Bellini family but I always enjoy seeing their work.

San Rocco and the Angel

Sant' Eufemia

The façade faces a canal and when I arrived in the morning, the floor was covered with an inch or two of water (acqua alta) and I couldn’t go in. I came back a couple of hours later, and the water had receded and I was able to visit. Even though the acqua alta was mild compared to my December 2008 trip, it did happen several times, and I visited two churches that had water inside (the other was San Giacomo dall’ Orio and I had to wait until later to visit that one too).

Sant' Eufemia

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January 27, 2011

San Gerardo Sagredo

San Gerardo Sagredo

So we’re still on Giudecca and this is a very unique church, built in the 20th century, no less, making it the newest church on the Venetian block. It’s on an islet called Sacca Fisola, a relatively recent addition to Venice made of marshland reclaimed and filled-in to build modern housing. At first, I had to wonder why they felt the need to build a new church when they’ve got so many sitting around deconsecrated and unused, but it makes sense that the residents of this neighborhood would want their own parish church.

The church is dedicated to a Venetian saint who lived from 980-1046, a bishop who left his native Venice to bring Christianity to Hungary and was martyred in Budapest. He’s now a patron saint of Hungary and is also revered in Venice too; there are a number of paintings of him around Venice in other churches.

The church was designed by architect Renato Renosto; work began in 1961 and the church was consecrated in 1963. The main altar has a large painting of "Resurrection of Christ and the Communion of Saints" by Venetian painter Ernani Costantini (1922-2007), an artist who has paintings in other churches in Venice too, including Sant’ Agnese and Madonna dell’ Orto.

The church was closed, but the neighborhood was interesting with a number of street murals. I’ll post photos of those soon.

San Gerardo Sagredo

The cornerstone of this church has these mysterious hand-prints next to it. Are they graffiti or are they meant to be there?

San Gerardo Sagredo

San Gerardo Sagredo

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June 1, 2011

A few of my favorites

There are so many thousands of images of the Madonna all over Venice, both inside churches and museums, and out on the streets in carvings and shrines. Here are a few of my favorites that can be found inside various churches.

This gorgeous and elegant 13th century relief is high up on a wall of the church of San Francesco della Vigna. A marble Veneto-Byzantine relief with traces of gold, it's one of many beautiful works of art in this church.

San Francesco della Vigna

This next one can be found in the church of San Pantalon, in a niche on the wall of the Capella del Santo Chiodo. This chapel houses one of Venice's most-revered relics, a sacred nail used in the Crucifixion. Also 13th century, this statue of the Madonna and Child is alabaster with traces of decoration added a few centuries later. Wonderful crowns on them both! More about San Pantalon coming soon (it's a strange and fascinating church).

San Pantalon

These next two can both be admired in San Giacomo dall'Orio.

The first one is also 13th century, an image in Greek marble of the Virgin Orante. It's tucked away in a niche in the wall behind a large wooden cabinet where the church puts literature for the parishioners; it's easy to miss. I love her and also the bricks surrounding her.

You can't miss the second one though as she's right beside the entrance to the chancel and always has fresh flowers in front of her. She's 14th century, known as "Our Lady of the Annunciation."

San Giacomo dall'Orio

San Giacomo dall'Orio

June 16, 2011

Santa Maria del Soccorso


This little church was part of a charitable institution founded in 1580 by famous Venetian courtesan and poet, Veronica Franco (1546-1591), who is the subject of the book, The Honest Courtesan by Margaret Rosenthal, and the 1998 film, Dangerous Beauty.

“Soccorso” means succor, relief, rescue, and assistance, and this church was part of a larger complex dedicated to providing all of these to former and/or reformed prostitutes. The complex included housing (Casa del Soccorso), a cloister, and gardens along with this church. Veronica Franco petitioned the Venetian government and also recruited her wealthy noble friends to provide funding to aid these women. The first location was a small house close to the church of the Tolentini and then they moved to this location in Dorsoduro not far from the church of Angelo Raffaele.

Veronica Franco died before the larger hospice opened in 1601. There’s a legend that she was the model for a painting on the main altar of the church, but I’m not sure if that’s true. The complex was closed in 1807, and the residents moved to Cannaregio to a similar refuge connected to the church of Santa Maria dei Penitenti.

Today it’s an oratory (Oratorio della Congregazione Suore di Carità delle Sante Capitanio e Gerosa) and I don’t know if or when it's ever open. I haven't seen photos of the interior, but the Patriarch of Venice site reports that it has a Rococo altarpiece painting of La Vergine Immacolata by Jacopo Amigoni, and a stucco ceiling with a painting of the Madonna and Child.


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September 7, 2011

Ss. Cosma e Damiano

Ss. Cosma e Damiano

A Renaissance church and convent dedicated to two doctor saints, this church was founded in 1481 by Benedictine nuns from Murano and Mazzorbo, who thought that their convents were too lax and decided to start their own with stricter rules. The saints in question were twin brothers who practiced the healing arts in the 3rd century and would not accept payment for their services. These brothers are among the many “plague saints” who became popular in Europe during the regular and terrifying outbreaks of the Black Death. The relics of these saints are in nearby San Giorgio Maggiore along with many other places in Europe.

Other plague saints include San Sebastiano, San Giobbe, and San Rocco, all three of whom have a church in Venice dedicated to them. The most famous "plague" churches in Venice are Redentore and Santa Maria della Salute.

The doctor saints are depicted in these sweet little reliefs at the entrance to the church; the first one is San Cosma and the second San Damiano.

Ss. Cosma e Damiano

Ss. Cosma e Damiano

A number of noble families were buried here, and the church amassed a nice art collection including two paintings by Tiepolo which are now in the Accademia.

In 1806, the religious complex was suppressed, the church deconsecrated, the nuns moved to San Zaccaria, and the convent became barracks first and then later a hospice for cholera victims. In 1887, the complex was sold to a textile manufacturer and turned into a factory. Today it’s city property, recently restored, and the convent and cloisters are used for art exhibits and other community events.

There's a book about this church - "Nuns and Reform Art in Early Modern Venice" by Benjamin Paul.

Speaking of art and Giudecca, earlier this year I posted about some cool modern murals on Sacca Fisola. I didn't know anything about them, so I was happy to get a comment recently from an artist in Venice named Elena who told me that the murals were painted in the 1980's by well-known artists under the auspices of an organization called Fondazione Bevilaqua La Masa. And this summer, Elena has been part of an art show at the Cosma e Damiano cloisters. I appreciate her taking the time to comment!

Ss. Cosma e Damiano

September 15, 2011

Le Convertite

Convertite (Santa Maria Maddalena)

Also known as Santa Maria Maddalena, Le Convertite is a former church and convent on Giudecca that now houses a women's prison.

One of two churches in Venice dedicated to Mary Magdalene, this church was part of a religious complex founded in the 16th century. In addition to the church and the convent, it included a hospice for fallen women/prostitutes who had repented or had nowhere else to go.

A truly gruesome story about this convent is recounted in much detail in Mary Laven’s "Virgins of Venice." In a nutshell, a priest named Giovanni Pietro Leon used the women who lived in this convent as his personal harem. There were 400 nuns here at that time and unlike the noble-born nuns at San Zaccaria and other Venetian convents, these women were poor and had no help from outside. They were truly prisoners at the mercy of this priest, who not only raped the girls but drowned the babies of the ones unlucky enough to get pregnant by him. Many of the nuns committed suicide during this reign of terror. Evidently this priest was a well-educated con artist who convinced the Venetian aristocracy and representatives from Rome of his piety and good intentions, and he got away with it for 20 years. But he was finally exposed and executed in Piazza San Marco in 1561. I couldn’t help but think about those nuns when I visited this church last year.

At one time, this church had a painting by Albrecht Durer but it was removed when the complex was suppressed by Napoleon in the early 19th century. For a while, the place was a military hospital and then in 1857, it became a women’s prison which it still is today. Another former religious complex in Venice (Santa Maria Maggiore) is now a men’s prison.

Convertite (Santa Maria Maddalena)

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November 10, 2011

Santa Croce

Santa Croce

Not to be confused with the demolished church that gave its name to the sestiere, Santa Croce; this church with the same name is in Giudecca and is still standing, though it rivals Sant’ Anna for the most crumbling church in Venice.

This church and a Benedictine convent were founded in the 13th century, and the church was rebuilt in 1508-11. After the 19th century suppression, the Santa Croce nuns moved to San Zaccaria, the campanile was demolished, and the religious complex was used as a prison for a while and later as a reform school. Today the church appears to be abandoned, and the former convent is a “casa di lavoro” or half-way house for soon-to-be-free prisoners.

There’s a nice miracle story connected to this place. In 1464, four nuns from this convent died of the plague. One day, a knight visited the convent and asked for a drink of water from their vera da pozzo. He told the nuns to trust God and promised that no more of them would die. They later decided that the mysterious visitor had been San Sebastiano in disguise and that he had blessed the water from their well. No more nuns died during that particular outbreak of the plaque, and 100 years later during the 1576 plague, many people were cured by drinking the miracle-working water from the “pozzo di San Sebastiano” at Santa Croce. I wonder if the vera da pozzo is still there on the grounds of the halfway-house?

The most interesting thing about my visit to this church was how much trouble I had getting there and the cats I found along the way. Getting lost in Venice is a given, but it’s especially funny when you have a map, know where you are and where you’re going, but still can’t figure out how to get there! On the way to this church, I somehow ended up on the other side of a big wall. I could see the church, but it took me a while to figure out how to get to the other side.

Santa Croce

So while wondering around trying to get over the wall, I saw the tell-tale cat condos and soon enough found the resident cats, who were decidedly not happy to see me.



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December 3, 2011

San Pantalon

San Pantalon

This church is fascinating and I've got so many photos that it’s going to take more than one post, so here’s part one.

Part Two: Capella del Santo Chiodo
Part Three: Oratory of Madonna di Loreto

No one knows for sure when this church was founded, but it was rebuilt for the first time in 1009. So it’s an ancient church and one of the oldest parishes in Venice, though the current building dates only to the mid-17th century. By that time, the Venetian Republic was in full-scale economic decline which explains why this church and about six others re-built around the same time are unfinished; there were no wealthy donors to pay for marble façades to cover the bare brick fronts of these churches. The San Pantalon campanile was rebuilt in the 18th century.

San Pantalon

San Pantalon was a 4th century doctor saint from Nicomedia, in what is now Turkey. You can see the saint inside the church in Veronese’s final painting, San Pantalon Healing a Child, as well as in the church’s most famous work, its incredible ceiling. Venetian artist, Giovanni Antonio Fumiani (1645-1710), spent almost 25 years constructing this ceiling which consists of 40 separate canvases combined to create an amazingly unified work that depicts the martyrdom and glorification of San Pantalon. A large interactive reproduction can be seen here that gives some sense of how extraordinary it is. Be sure to take some coins for the light box that illuminates this ceiling!

There are other paintings by Fumiani in San Pantalon altars, and you can also find his work in the churches of San Rocco and San Zaccaria. There’s a legend that he fell to his death from the scaffolding just as he was completing the San Pantalon ceiling, but historians don’t seem to agree about whether this story is true. I hope it’s not. Fumiani is buried in San Pantalon along with his great masterpiece.

As impressive as the Fumiani ceiling is, there’s some equally incredible art in a couple of chapels tucked away behind the main sanctuary. Coming up soon are posts about the "Capella del Santo Chiodo" (Chapel of the Holy Nail) and the "Oratory of the Madonna di Loreto."

San Pantalon

To find San Pantalon, walk north from Campo Santa Margherita and you'll come to this bridge which will take you over to the church. This photo below was taken in 2008 when the campo in front of the church was being restored. Click "continue reading" below for the church's Opening Hours.

San Pantalon

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December 8, 2011

Oratory of Madonna di Loreto (in San Pantalon)

San Pantalon

Continuing with our visit to the church of San Pantalon…when you leave the Capella del Santo Chiodo, turn right and go back to this very quiet and dark oratory. It’s a recreation of the Santa Casa (Holy House) that can be found in Loreto, Italy.

This is another great story. The Santa Casa was Mary’s house in Nazareth, where she was born and grew up, and where the Annunciation took place. Her house was a Holy Land place of pilgrimage for centuries but then in the 13th century, angels swooped in, picked the house up, and moved it to Italy. In some versions of the story, it stopped off in Croatia and elsewhere first, but it‘s now in Loreto where they built a basilica around it. A photo of the Basilica of Loreto and a more complete version of the story is here. December 10 (this weekend) will be the annual celebration of the house’s flight to Loreto.

Evidently, there’s some scientific evidence that the Santa Casa really did come from Nazareth, and some think that “human” angels dismantled it and brought it to Italy after the Holy Land fell into Muslim hands in the Middle Ages. And in the early 20th century, the Madonna di Loreto became the patron saint of pilots; Charles Lindbergh carried her image with him across the Atlantic and she also went on an Apollo mission to the moon.

So in the 18th century, the Venetians decided to re-create the Santa Casa in the church of San Pantalon. The oratory was consecrated on March 25, 1744 (no accident on this choice of dates, I’m sure, since March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation and also the day that Venice was founded in 421).

The Black Madonna on the altar is a copy of the one in Loreto; the inscription on the altar screen translates to “And the Word is Made Flesh.” The frescoes were done by Pietro Longhi, best known for his charming scenes of 18th century Venetian daily life. It’s a strange and fascinating little place; I loved visiting it.

San Pantalon

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January 11, 2012

San Trovaso

San Trovaso

There are a couple of quirky things about this church that every guidebook mentions. First is the name - there’s no saint in existence called San Trovaso. The real name of this church is Ss. Gervasio e Protasio, brother saints who were the sons of San Vidal but were merged into one in Venetian dialect.

The other thing that’s unique is that the church has two facades and two main entrances, one facing the canal (photo above) and the other the campo (photo below). The story goes that two rival families who both attended this church insisted on having their own separate doors. It’s hard to believe that in a city with as many churches as Venice, families would fight over custody rights to one church!

San Trovaso

The Renaissance church we see today is at least the fourth incarnation. San Trovaso has ancient foundations and was renovated for the first time in 1028, burned down in 1105, collapsed in 1583, and was then rebuilt in a quick seven years as we see it today. The design was inspired by Palladio though he wasn’t the actual architect. Another unique thing about this church is that there are a few trees and some grass around it, things that few churches in Venice have.

San Trovaso

San Trovaso

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July 10, 2012

Z is for Zattere

Yay! We've made it to Z, the last letter in the alphabet. This has been a fun challenge. Thanks to all the folks who have visited and left such lovely comments on my blog.

So, here is the Zattere (the word means "rafts"). If you go to Venice, you're sure to spend some time walking along the waterfront street (or quay) called the Zattere and admiring its fantastic views.

From "Venice and Its Lagoon" by Giulio Lorenzetti:

"This broad promenade was known in the old days as la Carbonaria from the coal which was unloaded here. It was paved in 1519 and is today one of the prettiest walks in the city at midday along beside the wide Giudecca Canal, looking towards the Giudecca island. The name comes from the "zattere" (rafts) of timber which were brought down the rivers and moored here."

This coming weekend is the Festa del Redentore, a celebration that began in the mid-16th century to celebrate the end of a terrible outbreak of plague in Venice. The Venetians build a temporary bridge from the Zattere across the Giudecca canal to the church of the Redentore and walk across in thanksgiving.

Here is a view of some of the buildings along the Zattere, taken from a vaporetto in the canal. The larger church is the Gesuati and the smaller one is Santa Maria della Visitazione.


Zattere is also the name of a vaporetto (water bus) stop in this part of Venice~

Another view of the Zattere stop and the church~


Walking along the Zattere, you might notice this former door that's now a window with a sculpture of a girl with her hair tied beneath her chin~


You can also find this small shrine along the Zattere~

Dorsoduro 917 A

There's a silver saint inside the shrine. It might be Padre Pio but I'm not sure.

Dorsoduro 917 A

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


September 6, 2012

Santa Marta

Santa Marta

This is a strange part of Venice. It’s in the port area, and there are cars over there and even a parking lot right next to this deconsecrated church. I’ve learned that this southwestern tip of Venice has always been unique.

At one time, the Arzere (Embankment) of Santa Marta was connected to the mainland by a peninsula made of silt washed into the lagoon by the River Brenta. This natural bridge was called the Ponte dei Lovi (Bridge of Wolves) because it was overgrown and inhabited by wolves! The Venetians destroyed the Ponte dei Lovi in 1509 during the War of Cambrai to prevent a land attack on the city.

The church of Santa Marta was founded, along with a convent and hospice, in 1315 to house Benedictines nuns from the lagoon island of San Lorenzo in Ammiana (an island that’s now completely underwater). The convent was expanded and the church rebuilt in 1468, and that’s the church we see today. It's dedicated to St. Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus.

In the 16th century, the convent was taken over by Augustinian nuns. As far as nuns go, the Santa Marta sisters seem to have lived a quiet life compared to those in other Venetian convents, though “Virgins of Venice” does share the news that in 1594, the Santa Marta nuns got in trouble for staying up all night playing cards with the young girls (not nuns) who were boarding at the convent until they were ready to marry.

Santa Marta

This area was famous for a festa held every summer on Santa Marta’s feast day (June 29) This Dorsoduro neighborhood, from San Nicolo dei Mendicoli to Santa Marta, was working class for the most part, and home to many fisherman. Evidently the Festa di Santa Marta was so much fun (and the fish so delicious) that the Venetian aristocrats would attend the festa too, arriving in boats decorated with twinkling lanterns.

Some think the church created the festa to commemorate the banquet for Christ at St. Martha’s home. But others claim that it began with the local fisherman roasting fresh-caught sole on the beach and when people began coming, the church got involved. Either way, it was a popular celebration that began with a service in the church and then moved outside, a fish fry on the beach with music and dancing. Canaletto was inspired to paint it, one of the few night scenes he ever did; you can see the painting here – La Vigilia di Santa Marta.

I was so excited to read on Sig. Nonloso’s Venezia Blog that the Festa di Santa Marta was revived in the summer of 2012!

Santa Marta

The Santa Marta religious complex was suppressed in 1805. The church building was used by the army to store animal fodder and later became a railway warehouse. The campanile (visible in the Canaletto painting) was demolished in 1910. For much of the 20th century, the church just sat there empty and neglected as the port grew around it, modern housing was built, and the university took over the nearby former cotton mill.

But just recently, the church was transformed into Spazioporto (spaceport), a conference center meeting space that opened in 2007 after a one million, eight hundred Euro restoration funded in part by Venice’s Port Authority.

Click on “foto” on the Spazioporto website to see photos of the interior. It’s pretty cool looking – a shiny modern wooden amphitheater thing but you can still see the church’s old brick walls and wooden ceiling. This space has been used as a venue for the Biennale among other things.

Santa Marta

As you can see, the exterior of the church has been stripped of most all decoration. It’s interesting to look at it and try to figure out what used to be there. It’s also an odd mix of modern and ancient brickwork.

Over the main door, there was a bas relief of Santa Marta protecting some nuns under her cloak, similar to the image of the Madonna della Misericordia which can be found in so many places in Venice.

This relief was relocated to the church of Angelo Raffaele, and I happened to photograph it without knowing what it was at the time (I love it when things like that happen!). Other sculpture from Santa Marta was taken to the church of Sant’Eufemia on Guidecca.

Angelo Raffaele

Continued below...

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September 19, 2012

San Sebastiano

San Sebastiano

This is a “must see” church, and don’t let the fact that it’s been under-going a comprehensive restoration for many years stop you from visiting. Every time I’ve visited, something new has been unveiled, and the restoration work being done by Save Venice is fantastic. I look forward to the day when all the work is completed, and we can see this church as a whole. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the Venetian High Renaissance and the work of Veronese, who decorated San Sebastiano with over 50 oil paintings and frescoes.

San Sebastiano

This religious complex was founded in 1393 by monks who were followers of St. Jerome. It began with a monastery, a hospice, and a small oratory dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. In 1455, the oratory was rebuilt, became a church, and was rededicated to St. Sebastian in response to the plague epidemic of 1464.

It’s a mystery as to why they rebuilt the church again only a few decades later but they did, and that’s the church we see today, built in the early 16th century. Shortly after the completion of the church, the monks commissioned a 27-year-old artist from Verona to decorate the sacristy. They were happy with his work, and Veronese continued to paint in San Sebastiano for the next 25 years.

San Sebastiano

Paulo Caliari (Veronese) was born in Verona in 1528 and began his painting career there; he died in Venice in 1588 and is buried in San Sebastiano. There’s a story that he took refuge in the San Sebastiano monastery after killing a rival, perhaps as part of a love triangle, but most sources say that there’s simply no evidence that this story is true. Perhaps a jealous fellow artist started the rumor after the young artist from out of town received this commission? The real reason that Veronese got the San Sebastiano commission might be that the abbot of the monastery at that time was also from Verona. See his paintings in this church and elsewhere here.

San Sebastiano

San Sebastiano is an easy saint to recognize – young, handsome, and half-naked with a bunch of arrows in his chest. This interesting article notes that, in the period from 1450-1530, St. Sebastian was the fifth most popular saint in Venice based on the number of times he appeared in altar paintings in churches (the top four were Mary, John the Baptist, Jerome, and Peter). His popularity can be attributed to his healing abilities. San Sebastiano is one of several Venetian churches dedicated to saints who were believed to be able to offer healing and relief from the plague; other “plague churches” are San Giobbe, Redentore, San Rocco, and Santa Maria della Salute.

San Sebastiano

The campanile is a nice one, and on its side is one of my favorite pieces of bell tower sculpture, an 11th century Byzantine cross with kissing love birds.

San Sebastiano

San Sebastiano is Veronese’s church, for sure, but there’s also a lovely and sweet painting of San Nicolo by Titian in one of the chapels.

There are always things to look forward to seeing in Venice (next time!), and I can’t wait to see the restored ceiling paintings and the early 16th century floor of glazed majolica tiles in the Annunciation Chapel. The San Sebastiano restoration is supposed to be completed next year (2013).

San Sebastiano

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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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August 1, 2013

St. George's Anglican

St. George's Anglican

St. George’s Anglican (sometimes called the English church) is one of a handful of non-Catholic churches in Venice.

Anglican services have been held in various locations in Venice for over 400 years. In 1889, a committee of English residents of Venice was formed to locate a permanent home for their church; they acquired a former glass warehouse in Campo San Vio, and the church was dedicated in 1892. A short history is here on the church’s website.

Two of the church founders were Sir Henry Layard and his wife (Lady Layard also gave this street shrine to Venice). There's a chapter about the Layards in John Julius Norwich's wonderful book, Paradise of Cities: Venice in the Nineteenth Century.

I’ve said before that it’s very cool that there are Venetian churches of different denominations dedicated to George the dragon-fighting saint. In addition to this Anglican church, there’s the Greek Orthodox church and of course, San Giorgio Maggiore and the fantastic San Giorgio degli Schiavoni.

In 2008 when St. George’s Anglican celebrated 400 years in Venice, they had various anniversary fundraisers to raise money to restore the church. One of their projects was a St. George scavenger hunt where donors got a book of clues and set off to find other images of St. George and the Dragon on the streets of Venice. The internet has made finding such things much easier, but the scavenger hunt would have been fun.


I haven’t been inside St. George’s. I’d love to see its stained glass windows honoring various esteemed Brits, including John Ruskin. These windows were recently restored by Venice in Peril and there’s info about them on their website. The church’s altarpiece is currently being restored; see a photo here.

Every time I walk by St. George’s, I remember Jan Morris’ description of the ladies who attended this church:

“The pink-cheeked, tight-curled, lavender-scented, pearl-necklaced, regimentally brooched ladies that so admirably represent, year in, year out, east and west, the perennial spirit of England abroad.” (The World of Venice)

Ha, so funny. Morris lived in the Venice in the 1950’s so I’m not sure those ladies are still at St. George’s. But I did stumble across an entertaining website called Ship of Fools where “mystery worshippers” attend church all over the world and write anonymous reviews of the services. St. George’s was reviewed in 2008; the review is positive overall even though the service is described as “stiff upper lip.” :)

The relief of St. George and the Dragon over the door is by Napoleone Martinuzzi (1892-1977) and is a memorial to English WWI soldiers. Martinuzzi, a sculptor and glassblower from Murano, also created the war memorial on Murano next to the basilica of SS. Maria e Donato, right underneath its campanile. Isn't it odd that a Venetian would name their son Napoleon?!

St. George Anglican

Monument to the Fallen, Murano, 1927

murano monument

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July 19, 2014

Capella del Santo Chiodo

This week's PhotoHunt theme is "Nails," so I decided to share this 2011 post about the "Chapel of the Holy Nail" in Venice. Happy Photohunting and have a nice weekend.

San Pantalon

The Capella del Santo Chiodo (Chapel of the Holy Nail) in the church of San Pantalon is such a wonderful little place. Admission to the church itself is free, but they ask for a one euro donation to visit this chapel. It's well worth it not just to see the altar that housed one of Venice’s most revered relics but also because of the amazing treasure trove of early Venetian art that’s tucked away back there.

Let’s start with the relic, the holy nail, which began its Venetian journey in the now demolished church and convent of Santa Chiara (it was in the sestiere of Santa Croce where the Piazzale Roma police station is now). How the Franciscan nuns of Santa Chiara came into possession of this relic is another charming Venetian story.

In 1270, a pilgrim visited Santa Chiara and gave the nuns a box and a ring, instructing them to keep the box safe without opening it, and to only give the box to someone who came along with an identical ring. Three hundred years passed, no one came, and I guess the nuns couldn’t take the suspense anymore and decided to open the box where they found a sacred nail used in the Crucifixion. A letter in the box revealed that the pilgrim who had brought the holy nail to the nuns was St. Louis IX, King of France, who had gotten the nail from Sant’ Elena (who had traveled to the Holy Land and found the True Cross). None of the dates in this story add up, by the way, but no worries, it’s still a great story. All that matters is that Venice ended up with an incredible relic.

When Santa Chiara was demolished, the sacred nail and its Gothic altar were moved to the church of San Pantalon. The altar is fantastic especially the little niche housing an exquisite early 14th century carving of the Deposition scene (top photo, you can click to see it larger).

I couldn’t see the holy nail and thought that perhaps it was only revealed on Holy Days, but then my UK blog friend, Andrew, told me that when he visited San Pantalon and asked to see the nail, someone told him that it had been stolen!

San Pantalon

On an adjacent wall is a glorious painting, Coronation of the Virgin (1444) by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d'Alemagna (brothers-in-law who were both part of the Vivarini workshop and often painted collaboratively). This painting was commissioned for San Pantalon’s high altar where it hung for a couple of centuries. I guess than in the 17th century when the church was rebuilt and “went for Baroque,” they moved it since it’s small and would be lost in the huge and imposing altar that’s there now. Fine with me, it’s much easier to see in this little chapel. This painting was restored by Save Venice in 1996 and it looks wonderful.

San Pantalon

And then on the opposite wall are three paintings by Paolo Veneziano. In the middle is the lovely and haunting Madonna of the Poppy (1325). I love her!

A few more photos from the chapel are below the jump (click “continue reading”).

San Pantalon

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Churches in Venice in the Dorsoduro category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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