Visiting Three famous Churches while walking to St Mark’s Square

There are a couple of ways to visit these three important Venetian Churches in or nearby the Castello Sestieri. If you are staying in the Cannaregio area, you can simply take the busy path that follows the Grand Canal around towards the Rialto Bridge before branching off to find Santa Maria dei Miracoli. The other method is to take the direct route through Cannaregio via the maze of alley ways to Rialto and then head left after crossing the bridge.

  1. Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli

The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is one of the most beautiful churches in Venice. It is also referred to as the ‘marble church’ and sits just inside the Cannaregio area. It was originally built as a chapel to house a small ‘miraculous image’ in the early 15th century. Miracles began to be associated with the image and funds were found to build a much larger structure. The church was finished by 1489.

Six centuries after its construction, the marble church was in danger of losing its beauty due to the intrusion of salt into the marble sheeting on the walls which were on the point of bursting. The organisation ‘Save venice Inc’ sponsored the restoration of the church between 1990-1997. Each piece of marble cladding was removed and cleaned in stainless steel tanks in distilled water. The beautiful wooden ceiling made up of 52 panels was also cleaned with an eventual cost for the restoration of the church at around 4 million dollars.

2. Basilica di San Giovani e Paolo

The map at the start of this blog shows that, for Venice, it is a reasonably straightforward walk to the huge church of Saint John and Paul from Santa Maria Miracoli. You would expect that the saints referred to in the title would be the biblical apostles but in fact the church is named after two Early Church martyrs. It is famous in Venice because it is where funeral services of the local Doges of Venice were held and there are 25 doges buried here in this, the largest church in the city.

This church was consecrated in 1430 but it had started being built in 1234, taking well over a century to build for the Dominican order of monks. In the photo to the left above can be seen the canal running beside the campo and a bridge crossing over to the square that surrounds the church complex. The building that sits on the edge of the canal should remind visitors of Santa Maria Miracoli because the walls are made from marble sheeting like the previous church visited. This building is called the Scuola Grande (‘Great School) San Marco…there are six of these buildings in Venice and they began in the 13th century and were charitable and religious institutions. Today this building is the local hospital.

On the Sunday afternoon when we arrived at San Zanipolo (as the local call it), the campo around the church was awash with people, mainly parents catching up with friends while their children ran amok in one of the few open areas in the city available for a game of football.

There is a very large equestrian statue that stands level with the front door of this minor basilica. It is of Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1470), a captain-general of the Republic of Venice.

From the large Campo of the Basilica di San Giovani e Paolo, we headed for our third church of the afternoon, Santa Maria Formosa. This was also the direction of St Mark’s Square where we would end our walk for the afternoon. Not far away from San Giovani e Paolo we encountered another of the many smaller churches of Venice, S. Maria dei Derelitti which was a 16th century church begun in 1575 next to a hospital that cared for poor and disabled orphans. This building no longer functions as a church and is used for concerts.

3. Santa Maria Formosa

One of my minor habits when I arrived at a church on my walks around Venice was to take a copy of the details on the silver plaque which listed the basic datails of each church; it was usually attached to the façade. The plaque on Chiesa di S. Maria Formosa was a typical example.

The plaque indicated that a church was founded on this site in the VII century…in fact legend sets a precise date of 639CE. The church here was renovated twice again before it was “reconstruita” in 1492, coincidentally the year Columbus sailed to the Americas. The term ‘faciate’ refers to the construction of facades on this church in the 16th century (1542). The plaque’s final date refers to the construction of the Baroque bell-tower which was finished in 1688. Catholic celebrations on this spot have been continuous for almost 15 centuries by the time I wandered into the large campo in front of Santa Maria Formosa.

The map to the right shows the extent of the Campiello (Venetian Square) around Santa Maria Formosa. It is quite extensive by Venetian standards. The photo below, taken from the edge of the canal, shows the large square in front of the church and also illustrating that the church and the bell-tower are just two of the features of this area. Local houses and Palazzos (note image of the white Ruzzini Palace Hotel below the image of the Campiello) are just some of the key elements of this community.

The image on the right above is referred to as the ‘Polyptych of Saint Barbara, a composition of six panels painted by Palma Vecchio which is the altarpiece of this church.

Despite the ancient nature of this church and community in Venice, it was not immune to assault during war time. On August 9, 1916, Santa Maria Formosa was hit by Austrian bombing with the presbytery and parts of the church being damaged.

After finishing our inspection of Santa Maria Formosa and its large Campiello, we headed along the canals that took us to St Mark’s Square. It had been long afternoon’s walk so we decided to catch the ferry back to Ferrovia. Our ferry terminal was down in front of San Zaccaria and the trip home along Giudecca Canal is always very interesting.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close