Venice – churches of the Chorus Association (3/3)

This is my third post about the churches belonging to the Chorus Association in Venice and in it I’m going to introduce to you the last six churches that I visited. If you have read my previous posts about Venice, please click here to jump directly to the main content of this one. If not, the following paragraphs will be about an explanation of the outstanding universal value of Venice in terms of its history, city planning, architecture and art, some practical tips concerning the ideal length of your stay, the proper season of your visit and what you should note while eating in the restaurants and an introduction to the public transport system as well as the entrance prices and opening hours of some of the major attractions such as the churches belonging to the Chorus Association and the museums of the MUVE. Now, let’s get to know Venice, a precious gem on the Adriatic sea.

As the UNESCO comments:

Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.


威尼斯及其泻湖: 威尼斯始建于5世纪,由118个小岛构成,10世纪时成为当时最主要的海上力量。整个威尼斯城就是一幅非凡的建筑杰作,即便是城中最不起眼的建筑也可能是出自诸如焦尔焦内(Giorgione)、提香(Titian)、丁托列托(Tintoretto)、韦罗内塞(Veronese)等世界大师之手。

1. Venice and its outstanding universal value

When’s the first time you heard about Venice and how? Well, I guess the first time I heard about Venice was in my English literature class when I was introduced to William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice“. Or maybe it was in my history class when I learnt that Marco Polo departed from here in search of China, Annam (nowadays Vietnam), Tonkin, Sumatra (an island in Indonesia), India and Persia. His voyage reminds us of the role that the Venetian merchants played in the discovery of the world, though after the Arabs, around 200 years before the Portuguese. In fact, it’s also possible that I heard about Venice even earlier, in my Chinese literature class when I was appreciating the essay “Venice” written by Zhu Ziqing, a renowned Chinese poet and essayist.

威尼斯(Venice)是一个别致地方。出了火车站,你立刻便会觉得;这里没有汽车,要到那儿,不是搭小火轮,便是雇“刚朵拉”(Gondola)。大运河穿过威尼斯像反写的S;这就是大街。另有小河道四百十八条,这些就是小胡同。轮船像公共汽车,在大街上走;“刚朵拉”是一种摇橹的小船,威尼斯所特有,它那儿都去。威尼斯并非没有桥;三百七十八座,有的是。只要不怕转弯抹角,那儿都走得到,用不着下河去。可是轮船中人还是很多,“刚朵拉”的买卖也似乎并不坏。 威尼斯是“海中的城”,在意大利半岛的东北角上,是一群小岛,外面一道沙堤隔开亚得利亚海。在圣马克方场的钟楼上看,团花簇锦似的东一块西一块在绿波里荡漾着。远处是水天相接,一片茫茫。这里没有什么煤烟,天空干干净净;在温和的日光中,一切都像透明的。中国人到此,仿佛在江南的水乡;夏初从欧洲北部来的,在这儿还可看见清清楚楚的春天的背影。海水那么绿,那么酽,会带你到梦中去。

Zhu studied at Peking University (always one of the 2 top universities in China), and during the May Fourth Movement became one of several pioneers of modernism in China during the 1920s. Zhu was a prolific writer of both prose and poetry, but is best known for essays like “Retreating Figure” (背影), “You. Me.” (你我) and the long poem “Destruction” (毁灭). This time, before leaving for Venice, I told my parents that I was going there and my dad said, “Oh, Venice, the city that Zhu Ziqing visited and wrote about. Don’t forget to take the gondola and check whether they are the same as he described or not. Maybe they have changed now?” The text above is part of what Zhu wrote and I’ll try to translate it by myself here. I hope and will try my best to keep the “original taste” of it.

Venice is a unique place. Once leaving the train station, you will immediately realize that there are no cars here. Wherever you wanna go, you can to take either a steam ship or a gondola. The Grand Canal goes through Venice like the letter “S” and it is the “main street” of the city. What’s more, there are 480 small canals and rios and they play the same role as the small alleys (hutong) in Beijing. The steam ships are like buses in other cities, “driving” passengers hither and thither. Gondola is similar to a rowed boat and it’s unique here in Venice. Wherever you wanna go, it can take you there. There are no bridges? Of course there are and there are 378! That’s a lot and enough because after turning around and around, you can basically reach everywhere without touching the sea water. Nevertheless, still quite a lot of people choose to take ships and it seems that gondola is also a rather popular option among them. Composed of many small islands and located at the northeast corner of the Italian peninsula, Venice is called the “city in the sea”. Seen from the top of San Marco Campanile, the islands are like floral clusters floating on the Adriatic sea. In warm sunlight and with almost no smoke, my sight goes through the seemingly transparent whole until it reaches the horizon where the sea meet the sky. As a Chinese, Venice reminds me of the water towns in southern China. After my trip to northern Europe in early summer, I can still find spring here, retreating yet clear. The water, so green and so “strong”, flows into your dreams.

The essay is much longer and I hope you can grasp a general idea or feeling of it from my translation. I’m happy that writing about Venice gives me the opportunity to read Zhu’s work again. I think the last time I read the “Venice” by him was somewhat more than 10 years ago and I have forgotten almost all of it except the “gondola”. A city floating on the sea? Doesn’t it only exist in fairytales or the magical world? As Zhu mentioned in his essay, I was born and grew up in southern China and I know Suzhou (Soochow) is called the “Oriental Venice” because of its rivers and bridges. I lived in this city for four years and I’ve always dreamt of seeing the real Venice. Eventually, the opportunity has come.

In this lagoon covering 50,000 square kilometers, nature and history have been closely connected since the 5th century when the Venetian ancestors came to the sandy islands of Torcello, Jesolo and Malamocco. As time went by, temporary settlements turned to be permanent and the fisherman and peasants became a maritime power. With its expansion over the centuries, Venice never ceased to consolidate its position in the lagoon. What is it that made the UNESCO decide to protect the whole city and its lagoon? What kind of historical, cultural and educational values does Venice possess? Based on what I read from the UNESCO World Heritage website, I’ll try to answer these question from three main aspects, that is to say, the city planning (protection), the monuments (architecture) and the art (painters and paintings).

1.1 Urban setting

Before seeing it, it’s rather difficult to imagine a city built on the sea. We sometimes say though a sparrow is small, it has all the organs that it needs. From Torcello to the north to Chioggia to the south, the islands here in this lagoon are similar to the sparrows, small yet highly functional. Made up of these islands and located at the heart of Veneto, Venice “stood as one of the greatest capitals” in the Middle Ages. In this distinctive city, street means canal, alley means rio, bus means ship and pedestrian crossing means bridge. This unique landscape resulted from a long and sophisticated process which reflects the interaction between people and the natural environment and it is this interaction that demonstrates people’s high technical and creative skills in the “realization of the hydraulic and architectural works” in this area. Although Venice presents a complete typology of medieval architecture, what makes it more special and valuable is that these buildings were constructed according to certain urban setting which had to adapt to the special conditions of the site.

Was it an easy task to organize the islands in such an urban system? It was not and it is not an easy task to keep the system or to update it nowadays either. Venice was and still is vulnerable due to various reasons. One of them is the irreversible natural and climate changes. We human beings can change a lot of things but one of the few things that we can never take control of is nature. Though very difficult, negotiating with nature and protecting their home is a task that the Venetians never forget or give up. When you are in the city, you will see ingenious devices and designs that have been applied to the streets and buildings (palazzos, churches and so on) for this specific purpose. As part of the coherent ecosystem, the muddy shelves, the small islands, the pile dwellings, the fishing villages, the rice fields and so on (which can be easily neglected) all need the same level of attention and protection. Shouldn’t we remember the crystallization of wisdom of these people who were, are and will be coping with nature to preserve this glorious gem of the sea?

1.2 Architecture and monumental arts

The second aspect showing Venice’s outstanding universal value is its influence on the development of monumental arts. I was writing about Palladio and his works in and around Vicenza some time ago and I mentioned some of his original designs in Venice. Honestly, for me, visiting Venice is like visiting the historic centers of Rome and Paris in the aspect that almost every building has its own history and is worth knowing about. This is the reason why the UNESCO emphasizes that “the lagoon of Venice has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces in the world”. From the palazzos to the squares (piazza and campi), from the bridges to the streets (calli), from the churches to the Scuole hospitals and chartable and cooperative institutions, one who sees Venice sees the complete catalogue of medieval architecture and even more.

While we are talking about the city’s history and buildings, how can we miss its significant role as the capital (810–1797) of the Republic of Venice? For almost a millennium, Venice was the major witness to the ups and downs of this powerful sovereign state and nowadays, its architectural ensembles make it possible for us to see the magnificence of the Republic’s Golden Age. What’s more, internationally, the monuments built based on the Venetian models “first through the Serenissima’s fondachi or trading stations, along the Dalmatian coast, in Asia Minor and in Egypt, in the islands of the Ionian Sea, the Peloponnesus, Crete, and Cyprus” are strong evidence of the width and strength of this Republic’s influence on architecture.

1.3 Paintings and decorative arts

When the Republic of Venice started to lose its power over the sea, it exerted its influence in a rather different manner. I personally am a great fan of Italian paintings and besides the Manneristic Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, the ones belonging to the Venetian school are always among my favorites. From the later part of the 15th century, Venice had a distinctive, flourishing and influential art scene. Beginning with the work of Giorgione and the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, major artists of the Venetian school included Titian (Tiziano Vecelli), Tintoretto (also known as Jacopo Robusti in his youth), Paolo Veronese (also known as Paolo Caliari) and Jacopo Bassano (also known as Jacopo dal Ponte). Together with Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, their revolutionary and ingenious masterpieces illustrating a brand-new perception of space, light and color left a decisive mark on the development of painting and decorative arts in the whole of Europe.

I remember that in the museums in other cities, once I saw paintings of these masters that I mentioned above, I would definitely take a close look at them. Nevertheless, in Venice, I only chose to take a look at the most famous ones or the ones that I like the most. Why? Because there are so many! I assure you that in no other city of the world can you see such a complete collection of works created by these great painters. These marvelous masterpieces are scatted all over Venice in the churches, houses, palazzos and of course in the museums and art galleries. For example, in the Church of San Zaccaria, you can see Giovanni Bellini’s “San Zaccaria Altarpiece”; in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, you can see Titian’s “The Assumption of the Virgin”; in the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, you can see Tintoretto’s “Last Supper”; in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, you can see Paolo Veronese’s “The Feast in the House of Levi” and “Mystical Marriage of St Catherine”Titian’s “Presentation of the Virgin” and many more. Trust me, if you are a fan of any of those masters in the Venetian school, you will certainly feel Venice is the paradise of art. Just a reminder, as a city built on 118 small islands floating on the Adriatic Sea, the beauty of Venice also inspired numerous landscape painters such as Canaletto, Guardi, Turner and so on.

2. General tips for visiting Venice

Having elaborated on the outstanding universal value of Venice, now, by answering four questions, I’d like to give you a general introduction to the city accompanied by some suggestions or tips based on my own experiences. The first question that I guess many people, who have never been to Venice, have in their mind is: “What are the must-visit attractions in this wonderful city?” Well, I guess anyone who knows Italy knows Venice and anyone who knows Venice knows St. Mark’s Square. It is the principal public square of Venice and is generally known just as la Piazza (“the Square”). Together with the Piazzetta (“little Square”), an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner, it forms the social, religious and political centre of Venice. In fact, All the other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzale Roma) are called campi (“fields”). Dominated by the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint MarkProcuratie Nuove, Napoleonic Wing, Procuratie Vecchie, the Campanile of St Mark’s churchBiblioteca Marciana, and Doge’s Palace, these two spaces are worth the name “the drawing room of Europe” (a comment which is said to have been left by Napoleon).

Take your time but remember, don’t spend all your time here. Otherwise, you will miss a big part of Venice. I somehow feel that visiting Venice is like going through a general body examination. It’s of vital importance to check the heart (visit the St. Mark’s Square) but without checking other parts, this examination just doesn’t make much sense. All in all, I’d really like to remind you that Venice is much more than just St. Mark’s Square. Visiting the bridges (such as Ponte dell’Accademia and the Rialto Bridge), the churches (such as the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Basilica of Saint Mary of Health), the houses or palaces (such as Ca’ Rezzonico and Ca’ Pesaro), the islands (such as Murano and Burano), the museums (such as the Lace Musem and the Glass Museum), the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Grand Canal and so on will help you gain a much more detailed and comprehensive understanding of Venice.

“How long should we stay in Venice?” Well, this is a very difficult question because depending on how much you wanna see and how much you wanna learn, the length could vary from three days to a month or even longer. If you wanna have a good understanding of the city, I would say you need to spend at least a week here. “What’s the best time to visit Venice?” I visited Venice in November and at the beginning I was a bit disappointed because my friends told me the weather in the summer is much better. Nevertheless, when they told me they waited for one, two or even more hours to enter the churches and museums, I was so glad and realized that I chose the right time. In totally, I visited 18 churches and 9 museums and I didn’t spend any time waiting for entering them. Though in the winter, almost all the museums close earlier than in the summer, I’m still happy that I can use the time standing in the lines to have a nice dinner and enjoy the view of Venice at night. Briefly, if possible, I still recommend you visiting Venice in the low season to avoid large crowds.

“Is it safe to travel in Venice?” According to my experience, I would say my own trip was rather smooth and successful. I wouldn’t say there’s anything life-threatening that you need to be reminded of. Nevertheless, do keep an eye on your personal belongings because similar to any other big or famous touristy cities, thieves are inevitable. What’s more, don’t fall for their tricks when someone offers you free stuff or asks you to sign something. Just remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Besides,there are two more things that I’d like to share with you concerning having lunch and dinner in the restaurants. Firstly, please note that cover fee and service fee are two different charges so when you go to a restaurant where they say they don’t charge compulsory service fee, don’t be surprised when the cover fee appears on your bill, and vice versa. Honestly, as for the cover fee, I think its reasonable to charge it and as long as they provide ok service, I prefer that the restaurants just charge the service fee directly so I don’t need to calculate and think about how much tip I should leave. The thing I hate the most is that sometimes they say one thing while doing another (For example, some guy standing in front of the restaurant inviting customers in said that the restaurant wouldn’t charge service fee or whatsoever. Nevertheless, by the end, both fees appeared on the bill and I saw some customers complaining to him and he seemed to suggest that he would talk with the manager and give their cover and service fees back. Of course 99% of the people would say “Ah, it’s just a few euros, never mind,” and that’s how he does his “business”.) I don’t mind paying a few more euros but if you lie to me, I won’t allow myself to be tricked like a fool and pretend nothing has happened. The second thing is that when you make your order, make sure you see your dish and the price on the menu. For example, in one restaurant, the waitress asked my friend and me, “do you want some garlic bread”? and I said “sure, why not.” but when I got the “garlic bread” they turned out to be tomato buchetta. I bet that if I questioned her she would say “oh, sorry I can’t speak English well or oh sorry, isn’t buchetta garlic bread?” What else could I say? Fortunately, nowadays on Google Map you can check reviews of the restaurants and I strongly recommend you doing so before entering them. How I regret I didn’t do it because later on I checked the reviews of that particular restaurant and there had been so many similar cases much worse then mine. Can you imagine how you would feel if you and your family enter a restaurant planning to have a simple dinner for around 60 euros and end up paying 200 instead? I sincerely hope that the local authorities could deal with these kinds of restaurants which are obviously trying to “rip tourists off”. We tourists need to respect Venice and on the other hand, Venice (relevant administrations) also needs to respect its visitors. Only in this way can we achieve a harmonious relationship between the city and the people.

3. Brief info about public transport and major attractions (that I visited)

As I mentioned above, during my this trip to Venice, I visited 16 churches belonging to the Chorus Association, a conservation organisation aiming at safeguarding, conserving and restoring the artistic, historical and cultural heritage contained within the 18 Venetian churches that presently constitute its membership (Church of Santa Maria del Giglio, Church of Santo Stefano, Church of Santa Maria Formosa, Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario, Church of San Polo, Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Church of San Giacomo dall’Orio, Church of San Stae, Church of Sant’Alvise, Basilica of San Pietro di Castello, Church of the Santissimo Redentore, Church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati), Church of San Sebastiano, Church of San Giobbe, Church of San Giuseppe di Castello, Church of San Vidal and Church of San Giacomo di Rialto), 8 museums belonging to the Venice Civic Museum Foundation (Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia) (Doge’s Palace, Museo Correr, Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ Pesaro, Glass Museum in Murano, Natural History Museum, Mocenigo Palace, Fortuny Palace, Lace Museum in Burano, Carlo Goldoni’s house and Clock Tower (visits only upon prior booking)) as well as the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore as well as the Gallerie dell’Accademia.

If you want to visit both the churches and the civic museums I recommend you buying the City Pass from VeneziaUnica which costs 29.9 euros for people from 6 to 29 years old (39.9 euros for people from 30+) and gives free admission to: Doge’s Palace and all 10 Civic Museums of Venice, 16 churches of the Chorus Circuit (another 2 are free), the Querini Stampalia Foundation and the Jewish Museum. Please click here to check more offers provided by VeneziaUnica such as St. Mark’s City Pass (free access to Doge’s Palace and the Corror museum on St. Mark’s square + 3 churches in the Chorus circuit of your choice), St. Mark’s City Pass + tour of the Teatro La Fenice with audioguide, City Pass + lagoon tour, City Pass + public transport and so on.

If you only wanna visit the churches of the Chorus Association, I suggest you buy the Chorus Pass which costs only 12 euros for an adult (please note that entrance to each church in this circuit costs 3 euros already). For more information about the reduced-price Pass, Family Pass, free tickets, opening hours of the churches and so on, please click here.

If you only wanna visit the civic museums, you can buy the “Museum Pass” which grants entrance to most of them except Palazzo Fortuny and the Clock Tower. The full price is 24 euros. Depending on which and how many museums in this foundation you want to visit, either buying the tickets separately or buying the “Museum Pass” can be cheaper. However, if you plan to visit more than four museums in this circle, it’s for sure a better deal to just buy the Pass. Please click here and then click the PDF file “Civic Museums of Venice – short version” to check both the full and reduced entrance prices for each of the museums and click here to know more about the different prices of the “Museum Pass” (such as family pass, child pass, senior pass etc).

As for public transport, water bus (ship) is the main means. According to my experience, it’s fun exploring the main island both on foot and by boat because the former means gives you the opportunity to be closer to the narrow streets and authentic residential blocks while the latter makes your journey much easier and more convenient because there are so many lines and stops. Nevertheless, if you want to visit the Church of the Santissimo Redentore, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the Lace Museum on Burano Island, the Glass Museum on Murano Island and so on and have a cruise on the magnificent Grand Canal, you have to take the water bus. Depending on how many days you will spend in Venice and where you want to go, you can buy one-way ticket (7.5 €), 1-day ticket (20 €), 2-day ticket (30 €), 3-day ticket (40 €), 7-day ticket (60€), water bus tickets with Marco Polo Airport transfer and so on. For more informations about group tickets and some special offers please click here and click “Public Transport”.

4. Churches of the Chorus Association

In total, I visited 16 out of the 18 churches belonging to the Chorus Association and again if you wanna visit more than four of them, I strongly recommend you buying the Chorus Pass because it’s a very good deal. These churches are not only religious places but also art galleries. In my previous posts, I talked about the churches of Santa Maria del Giglio, Santo Stefano, Santa Maria Formosa, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, San Giovanni Elemosinario, San Polo, San Giacomo dall’Orio, San Stae, Sant’Alviseand and the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. In this post, based on the information I learnt both from the info sheets on site and from the official website, I’ll introduce to you the last six churches that I visited in this association in the same manner (starting with their opening hours and focusing on their history, architectural features and the paintings within). It was a pity that I couldn’t visit the remaining 2 of the 18 churches because the Church of San Giobbe was under maintenance and the Church of San Giuseppe di Castello was open in the winter only for religious services. I do hope that in my next visit to Venice I’ll have the opportunity to appreciate the interior of them. As for the permission to take pictures, the staff in one of the churches told me that it depends on the priest in charge of the church so in some churches you can take pictures while in some others you can not. My suggestion is that in each church, while you are going through the ticket booth and getting your info sheet (available in various languages), just ask the staff whether you can take photos or not. Most of them are very friendly and helpful. Now, let’s continue with the Basilica of San Pietro di Castello, former cathedral church of the city.

4.1 Basilica of San Pietro di Castello

Open from Monday to Saturday: 10:30 – 16:30  (last entrance at 16:20)

Standing on the antique island of Olivolo, now known as Castello, the Basilica of San Pietro di Castello was a Diocesan church under the Patriarchate of Grado from 775 to 1451 and a cathedral on its own right from 1451 to 1807. The first church here was built in the 7th century and was dedicated to the Byzantine Saints Sergius and Baccus, whose mortal remains are enshrined in the third altar on the right. The new basilica, dedicated to Saint Pietro the Apostle was among the group of churches that Bishop Magnus constructed in the 9th century. It is said that St. Peter appeared in the bishop’s dream showing him where the church was to be erected. In 1451, despite being distant from the political and economic centre of the city, San Pietro became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice. Following this change, significant modifications were commissioned and they made the church as we see nowadays. For example, during the 1480s, Mauro Codussi rebuilt the church’s campanile using white Istrian stone, an elegant Renaissance structure. Between 1508 and 1524 the Patriarch Antonio Contarini restored the floors and ceiling and at the same time, minor chapels were re-built and the church was decorated with new furnishings.

The renovation that I am most interested in is of the façade, as you can see from the first picture in this chapter. If you have read my previous posts about Vicenza, this façade will probably remind you of the side portal of the Vicenza Cathedral. It is said that the portal is attributed to Palladio because of its similarity to the façade of this basilica. It is documented that in 1556, Patriarch Vincenzo Diedo commissioned Palladio (Palladio’s first commission in Venice) to prepare an improved design for the facade and interior of San Pietro but unfortunately, before the plans were implemented, Diedo passed away. Later on, between 1594 and 1596 the architect Francesco Smeraldi implemented a modified and less ambitious version of Palladio’s original design probably due to insufficient funds.

Though the structure of the current church (a Latin cross divided by three naves and surmounted by an enormous cupola) dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, its decorations are from the 17th century because a horrible fire in 1603 destroyed almost all the priceless and rare furniture and works of art within. In the chancel, the most notable work is probably the high altar of polychrome marble designed in 1649 by Baldassare Longhena containing an urn with the remains of the first patriarch of Venice, Saint Lorenzo Giustiniani. You can also see on the vault of the it and on the vault of the apse “The Holy Trinity in Glory” and “St. Lorenzo Giustiniani in Glory” by Girolamo Pellegrini (as you see see in the second picture above and in the second picture in the gallery). On the Trevisan Altar, you will see Marco Basaiti‘s “St. Peter in Cathedra and Four Saints” (as you can see in the third picture in the gallery) and in the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, you will see Pietro Liberi‘s distinctive work “The Plague of Serpents”. If you still have time, I suggest you take a look at the Vendramin Chapel, where Luca Giordano’s “The Virgin and Child with Repenting Souls” is hosted and the Lando Chapel, over the door of which Paolo Veronese‘s late work “St. John the Evangelist and Saints Peter and Paul” can be appreciated.

Last but not least, while wandering around in the basilica, I’m sure you will find the stone chair curious (as you can see in the first picture in the gallery). It’s called the Cathedra (seat) of St. Peter, traditionally considered the seat of the apostle in Antioch. Nevertheless, it was probably assembled in the 13th century using an ancient Arab funeral stele with inscriptions in Kufic from the Koran. In my opinion, the most outstanding feature of this church is the central role that it played in Venetian history and if you want know more about it please click here.

4.2 Church of the Santissimo Redentore

Open from Monday to Saturday: 10:30 – 16:30  (last entrance at 16:20)

This church is not only one of the most famous and venerated churches in Venice but also the heart of the Feast of the Redentore, celebrated on the third Sunday of July. Why is this church called the redeemer (Redentore)? Between 1575 and 1576, a terrible plague killed about 46,000 people in Venice (about 25-30% of the population). In 1577, in order to thank god for the deliverance from it, the Senate of the Republic of Venice commissioned the architect Andrea Palladio to design the votive church. Do you remember the Redeemer’s Feast I just mentioned? In fact, the origin of this feast dates back to this event. It is one of the most picturesque and traditional feasts in the region of Veneto and nowadays its religious and cultural origins are melt into a unique event featuring the celebration of the Holy Mass followed by fireworks, boat parades, Venetian-style dinners and so on.

Since we see the name Palladio again, it’s for sure worth mentioning the architectural features of this church. Although it was completed after Palladio’s death, the supervisor remained totally faithful to the original design and made it one of the absolute masterpieces of Renaissance architecture. Considering it’s built on the Giudecca Island, it can only be accessed by the water bus (ship) or water taxi. While you are approaching, take a close look at the façade with a central triangular pediment overlying a larger, lower one. Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, this classical feature recalls Palladio’s façade for San Francesco della Vigna, where he used an adaptation of a triumphal arch. Palladio is known for applying precise geometric proportions to his façades and the one of the Redentore is no exception. I learnt from Wikipedia that “the overall height is four-fifths that of its overall width whilst the width of the central portion is five-sixths of its height”. Before entering, you will have to climb 15 steps which are a direct reference to the Temple of Jerusalem and are possibly reflection to the temple’s votive function. Once getting in, the white walls and decorations reflecting the impressive simplicity of a classical temple will confirm with you that this is indeed Palladio’s original design. In fact, though the Senate wished the church to be square plan, Palladio designed a single nave one with three chapels on each side. (Does this structure remind you of one church that I mentioned in my previous post?) If you take a close look, you will probably notice that the plan is not a Latin cross either. As commented on the Chorus website, it is “rather an ingenious series of interconnected spaces (nave, presbytery, choir) forming a ceremonial progression from entrance to high altar”.

As for the artworks in this church, the first one that you should take a look at is “The Vow of Venice for the Liberation from the Plague of 1575-76” on the entrance façade by Paolo Piazza. Then, I would recommend you paying particular attention to several chapels where the “Birth of Jesus” and “Resurrection of Christ” by Francesco da Ponte known as Bassano il Giovane, the “Baptism of Christ” by the school of Paolo Veronese, the “Flagellation of Christ” by Jacopo Tintoretto and the “Christ Transported to the Sepulcher” by Jacopo Negretti called Palma il Giovane are located. Last but not least, a visit to the sacristy is surely worth your time because here you can see works (mainly related to the cult of Virgin Mary and the cult of relics) by Paolo Veronese, Bartolomeo Vivarini, Jacopo Palma il Giovane, Jacopo Bassano and so on. Just a reminder, don’t be shocked (as I was) when you see a series of wax heads of capuchin saints made with real hair and beard. They exemplify the typical craftsmanship of this religious order. If you wanna know more about this church, in particular about the paintings, please click here.

4.3 Church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati)

Open from Monday to Saturday: 10:30 – 16:30  (last entrance at 16:20)

Located on the Giudecca canal and in the Sestiere of Dorsoduro, the Church of Santa Maria del Rosario was constructed starting from 1726, consecrated in 1743, and decorated by 1755. Though created within a period of less than thirty years, its exceptionally preserved original architectural features, paintings and sculptures make it one of the greatest religious buildings in Venice. In order to understand this church, let’s start with its history. Why is it also called the Church of Gesuati? The word “Gesuati (Jesuati)” refers to a religious order founded by Giovanni Colombini of Siena in 1360, initially called Clerici apostolici Sancti Hieronymi. In 1668, this order was suppressed by Pope Clement IX because of “a falling off in numbers of its members” and the “slackness in the performance of their duties”. One year after, property of “I poveri Gesuati (the poor Jesuates)” in Venice including the small church of the Visitation and some other buildings was put up for auction and was acquired by the Dominicans, who settled themselves down there in 1670. Since then, the conventual complex became known as the Dominicans’ place at the Gesuati. Soon they realized that the Church of the Visitation was too small for the faithful and commissioned a larger one to Andrea Musato, who unfortunately died in 1721. Afterwards, a new design by Giorgio Massari was accepted. In realizing the excellence of this church, three masters made vital and the biggest contributions. That is to say, the architect Giorgio Massari, the painter Giambattista Tiepolo and the sculptor Giovan Maria Morlaiter. On the other hand, this masterpiece also won them recognition and fame in the city of Venice. Now let’s take a look at the marvelous works that they have created.

When Giorgio Massari was designing the church, he decided to keep the small church of the Visitation, which you can still see nowadays, and build the new one next to it. In fact, he’s not only responsible for designing the building but also in charge of commissioning the decorations of the interior. I guess he made a really wise choice by inviting two of the greatest artists at that time, Giambattista Tiepolo and Giovan Maria Morlaiter. I’m not sure you’ve noticed or not but take a close look at the façade and the floor plan. Don’t you think they remind you of some of the typical architectural features of Palladio? Giant Corinthian pilasters support a heavy triangular pediment (I read from Wikipedia that “270 piles had to be driven into the soil to support the weight of the facade”.) while the main entrance door is surmounted by a curved one. Doesn’t it remind you of the central part of the façade of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (designed by Palladio)? If you take a look at the plan (on the back of the info sheets) of this church and of the Church of the Santissimo Redentore (the church I mentioned in the previous chapter), I’m sure you will also find that they bear certain similarities. What’s more, the white-grey interior walls, the three open chapels on each side of the nave and so on all seem to suggest that Giorgio Massari “copied” Palladio’s design. Why doing so? Well, I guess first of all, he assumed that the safest way to satisfy his commissioner was to learn from his famous predecessors and he was surely a big fan of Palladio. Secondly, I guess it was either the pressure from the two churches (the Churches of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Santissimo Redentore) across the Giudecca canal or the intention to make the Gesuati integrate with them that left Giorgio Massari with this particular choice. By the way, the large statues in the niches on the façade represent the four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance and they were made by  Gaetano Susali, Francesco Bonazza, Giuseppe Bernardi Toretto, and Alvise Tagliapietra respectively.

If you are interested in 18th-century Venetian art or simply a fan of Giambattista Tiepolo, this church is a must-visit because it has a large painting by him on the ceiling, which is also one of his first large fresco commissions. Ordered by the Dominicans, based on the theme of the Rosary and painted from 1737 to 1739, the three frescoes on the ceiling (from the entrance to the high altar) depict “Glory of St. Dominic”, “Institution of the Rosary” and “Appearance of the Virgin to St. Dominic” with the central one being the largest (as you can see in the first picture above). As described in Wikipedia, the “Institution of the Rosary” illustrates:

The Virgin, in a blue sky with clouds, angels and cherubs, is supporting the Christ child who holds out the rosary to St Dominic. The saint stands at the top of a long flight of marble steps from which he is making the rosary available to the people, both rich and poor, including a doge and a pope. At the bottom, the darkest part of the painting, damned souls (heretics) tumble out of the picture frame.

Around these three frescoes, you probably have noticed many monochromes. They were also designed by Giambattista Tiepolo but were completed together with his assistants. Now, please move to the first altar on the right, where another work by him can be admired.

An oil painting on canvas by Giambattista Tiepolo can be seen above the first altar on the right. It shows three female Dominican saints, namely, St Catherine of Siena standing on the left, holding a cross with the crucified Christ, St Rose of Lima, standing on the right, holding the Christ child, who is holding a rose and St Agnes of Montepulciano, seated and holding a small cross. Seated behind and above them is the Madonna, seeming unnoticed by them.

Ironically, in the same years, Giambattista Tiepolo’s rival Giambattista Piazzetta was also working in this church and one of his representative works is the “Three Dominican saints” located above the third altar on the right. As commented by Michael Levey, the “real triumph of the painting is in its memorably austere tonality.” The theme of this painting was chosen by the Dominicans to demonstrate the missionary activities of their order. The three main characters are St. Louis Bertrand (in black), St Vincent Ferrer (in white) and Saint Hyacinth (in grey). As I read from Wikipedia,

In black in the foreground is St. Louis Bertrand, a Spanish saint who went as a missionary to the Caribbean, where a native priest was said to have tried to poison him (symbolised by the serpent in the chalice which he is holding). Beyond him, in white, is St Vincent Ferrer, who was said to have appeared to the former in a vision. The third saint is Saint Hyacinth, who went as a missionary to the East. He is holding his attributes, a monstrance and an image of the virgin and child, which he was said to have carried with him into the raging torrent of the Dniester from which he was miraculously saved.

Some other important paintings in this church include Sebastiano Ricci‘s “Pope Pius V, Thomas Aquinas, St Peter Martyr”, depicting three of the most famous Dominicans. It was the first work commissioned for the new building and was one of the last works of the artist. In the third altar on the left, remember to take a look at Tintoretto‘s “Crucifixion”, brought from the nearby church of the Visitation and restored by Giambattista Piazzetta in 1743.

Besides the architect Giorgio Massari and the painter Giambattista Tiepolo, the sculptor Giovanni Maria Morlaiter is another figure that made the Gesuati an excellent church. Praised by Hugh Honour as “one of the ablest sculptors in eighteenth century Venice” by and Semenzato as “the most brilliant interpreter of the rococo in Venetian sculpture“, he made almost all the sculptural decorations of the interior. In addition to the “Angels in Glory” on the second altar on the right, his greatest works include the marble decoration of the high altar, “Aaron” in the second niche on the right, “St Paul” in the third niche on the right, “Moses” in the second niche on the left, “St Peter” in the third niche on the left and so on. If you wanna know more about the church such as the paintings and sculptures, please click here. Now let’s move to the next church, Church of San Sebastiano, a must-visit for the fans of Paolo Veronese.

4.4 Church of San Sebastiano

Open from Monday to Saturday: 10:30 – 16:30  (last entrance at 16:20)

Standing on the Campo di San Sebastiano in the Dorsoduro sestiere, this church is among the five votive churches in Venice, each of which was built after the passing of a plague in the city. Originally on this site, a hospice and an oratory attached to an convent of the Saint Jerome Order were located. In the second half of the 15th century, a church dedicated St. Sebastian was erected, who was one of the chief patrons against plague in Europe and in this case, the patron who “saved” people in this area from the plague in 1464. In 1506, due to insufficient space, a new construction was commissioned to Antonio Abbondi (known as Scarpagnino), who expanded the church and made some big changes. For example, one big change is that he made the façade face the canal and the main entrance face the bridge which is connected to the Calle Avogaria, thus connecting the church to the city. In 1542, the prior of the Order of St. Jerome, Bernardo Torlioni of Verona, called on Antonio Abbondi again to modify the interior by adding three side chapels on each side and from then on, the general structure of the church remained the same as the one we see nowadays. Once entering, you will notice that it has an ordinary single-nave layout designed on a Latin cross. Nevertheless, if you walk towards the apsidal presbytery under a cupola and turn around, you will find the U-shaped choir gallery rather special. Different from the ones in most of the churches in Venice, it forms a vestibule at the entrance and seems to form another layer of the church supported by three arcades.

Unfortunately, compared with the artworks here, the architectural features I mentioned above don’t seem to be important anymore. Commissioned by Prior Bernardo Torlioni of Verona, between 1555 and 1570, the Verona-born artist Paolo Veronese decorated various parts of the interior of San Sebastiano including paintings, ceiling canvases and frescoes in the nave and sacristy. As I learnt from the official website of the Chorus Association, Veronese’s work in the church can be divided into three periods. The first ran from 1555 to 1556 and he decorated the coffered ceiling in the sacristy with panel paintings such as “The Coronation of the Virgin”, “St. John”, “St. Luke”, “St. Mark”, “St. Matthew” and so on as well as the coffered ceiling in the nave, which can never be missed once you raise your head and look up. The three panels paintings (as you can see in the pictures in the gallery) depict episodes from the Book of Esther including “Triumph of Mordecai”, “Banishment of Vashti” and “Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus”. Please note that the panel paintings in the sacristy are the first works done by Veronese in the city of Venice. The second phase of work ran from 1558 to 1559 and Veronese finished the frescoes on the upper part of the nave, the decoration of the friar choir (depicting the life of St. Sebastian) as well as two paintings on both the inside and outside of the organ doors representing “Presentation in the Temple” and “Miracle at Pool of Bethesda”. The final period of work ran from 1565 to 1570 and in the presbytery, Veronese finished the large altarpiece “Virgin Mary in Glory with Ss. Sebastian, Peter, Catherine and Francis” (the last work completed by him in this church) as well as two other paintings (“Martyrdom of St. Mark & St. Marcellinus” on the left and “Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” on the right). Please note that the exact time of the three periods (for example from which year to which year) is described on the official website of the Chorus Association but when comparing it with the information I gathered from the info sheet on site and from Wikipedia, I found some differences. I’m unable to tell you the definite years of the three periods but the general execution sequence of the works should be the same as explained above. If you are interested in these paintings, please click here to know more about them.

This church is surely one of the few places in the world, if not the only one, where you can see a large collection of Paolo Veronese’s works of art executed over a rather long period of time (15 years). What made this church even more special is that this great artist was entombed here in 1588 and his tomb is located to the left of the presbytery. I believe any fan of him should come and visit the Church of San Sebastiano without any hesitation. Probably overshadowed by the works of Paolo Veronese, some other paintings and sculptures by Titian, Palma il Giovane, Alessandro Vittoria and Jacopo Tintoretto can also be found here, either in the church or in the sacristy. For more information about them please click here.

4.5 Church of San Vidal

Open from Monday to Saturday: 9:30 – 18:00  & on Sundays: 10:00 – 18:00. Please note that this church provides free entry to its visitors.

The original church on this site was built in 1084 by Doge Vitale Falier but unfortunately, it was destroyed in a big fire in 1105. Reconstructed for the first time in the 12th century, the new church gained its Gothic form in the 15th century. The most important modifications were made at the end of the 17th century when the heirs of Doge Francesco Morosini decided to honor him with a new edifice. Originally in the plan, a funeral monument was to be built but due to family disagreement, it was never accomplished. The new building featuring a single nave and several side altars was designed by Antonio Gaspari, student of Baldassarre Longhena and was finished between 1696 and 1700. If you take a look at the façade, it will probably remind you of some façades that we’ve seen before. Huge columns of Corinthian order rest on elevated bases and support a triangular pediment which is topped by statues. Designed by Andrea Tirali, it is another example in Venice testifying to the influence of Palladian models. Please note that the sculpted portraits on it are of the Doge Carlo Contarini and his wife Paolina instead of Morosini because this façade was designed and constructed at a later period of time (1734–37).

As for the artworks in this church, once you enter the nave, I’m sure your attention will be drawn towards the main altarpiece “Glory of San Vidal” by Vittore Carpaccio depicting four saints flanking the saint on the back of a white horse and another four being on the balcony. The altar is flanked by two marble statues of the allegories of Faith and Fortitude made by Antonio Gai. Some other works such as the “Resurrection” by Antonio Vassillacchi known as Aliense, the “Immaculate Conception” by Sebastiano Ricci, the “Crucified Christ with saints” by the female painter Giulia Lama and the “Guardian Angel and Saints Anthony and Cajetan” by Giambattista Piazzetta can also be seen here. If you wanna know more about the artworks in this church please click here.

It is said that the famous composer Baldassarre Galuppi is buried here but no gravestone can be found. Please also note that in 2016, the “Church” of San Vidal was deconsecrated so in principle it’s not a church anymore. Conveniently located in the city center (at one end of the Campo Santo Stefano in the Sestiere of San Marco), it has become an event and concert hall.

5.6 Church of San Giacomo di Rialto

Open from Monday to Saturday: 9:00 – 17:00. Please note that this church provides free entry to its visitors.

Local tradition has it that this is the oldest church in Venice, which was built by a carpenter in 421. He made a vow to San Giacomo whilst in a big fire and after escaping it unharmed, he honored the vow by erecting this church in the saint’s name. Although there’s no documented proof, the story is retold in such detail that not only the date but also the exact time of the establishment are mentioned. 25th March at noon. One thing we know for sure about this church is that it existed in 1152 because the first document citing it dates back to this time. The carpenter escaping the big fire in 421 might be a legend but the church surviving the one on the night of 9th January in 1514 is an undeniable fact. Do you remember the terrible fire that basically destroyed the whole island of Rialto including the Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario that I mentioned previously? This church miraculously survived this disaster and remained almost unharmed.

A few years after, a wealthy patron, Natale Regia restored the Church and became the priest of it in 1503. After his death in 1532, a dispute concerning the power of appointing new priests to this parish church resulted in Pope Clement VII’s agreement to grant the patronage of San Giacomo to the Doge. In 1932, the patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Pietro La Fontaine entrusted the church to the Archconfraternity of San Cristoforo, “a confederation founded to intercede on behalf of the deceased and to accompany them to the cemetery”. If you wanna know more about this confraternity, please click here.

Outside the church, I’d like to draw your attention to the large 15th-century one-hand clock (as you can see in the first picture in the gallery) above the entrance, a rather useful item in the Venetian business district. The Gothic portico is also worth noticing because it’s one of the few surviving examples in Venice. Inside, the Veneto-Byzantine capitals topping the six columns of ancient Greek marble (as you can see in the fourth picture in the gallery) date back to the 11th century.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the two churches that I didn’t visit belonging to the Chorus Association are the Church of San Giobbe and the Church of San Giuseppe di Castello because the former was under maintenance and the latter was open in the winter only for religious services. I hope that this post together with the previous two can give you a rather detailed explanation of the 16 churches so that when you are in Venice, you can decide which ones to visit, if not all of them. I learnt a lot while writing about these churches, even more than the moment when I was visiting them so if you have patiently finished reading about them, I’m quite sure you will have a much better and more deeply understanding of their architectural features and works of art (such as paintings, sculptures so on) than many other tourists.

It is inappropriate for me to tell you which church is more important than the others but if you really really don’t have enough time, I would say you shouldn’t miss the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, where Titian’s “Frari Assumption” and “Pesaro Madonna” are preserved. In this basilica, you can also see the monument to Titina where he is buried and the monument to Antonio Canova, where his heart was interred. Nevertheless, I do emphasize that each church has its own history and unique features. For example, the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli was built of carved marble and hosts a “miraculous” painting called “Virgin Mary and Child” by Zanino di Pietro, the Basilica of San Pietro di Castello was for former cathedral of the city, the Church of the Santissimo Redentore was designed by Palladio, the Church of San Sebastiano has a large collection of Paolo Veronese’s works executed over a period of 15 years… I sincerely hope that you can leave some time for each of the churches because only in this way can you see the soul of this spectacular city. In the following posts, I’m gonna introduce to you the museums belonging to the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, from Doge’s Palace and Museo Correr on St. Mark’s Square to the Lace Museum on the island of Burona. Now, let’s get ready to know more about the historical and cultural heritage of Venice.

Venice – churches of the Chorus Association (3/3) was last modified: June 4th, 2019 by Dong

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