Morning News : 'Man shot dead as he runs for vaparetto!'
Gelati : (Noun, Italian; plural of 'gelato') meaning 1. 'Ice Cream'
Gelatinous : (Adjective, English) meaning 1. 'Resembling gelatin or jelly; something that is viscous' 2. 'What Steve is rapidly becoming as he continues to chow down on too many gelati!!!'
Yesterday along with other activities (including muchos ice cream) I had intended to start looking at some of the many, many beautiful churches that populate in almost incomprehensible numbers the relatively small area of Venice - a clear sign of much money and power in this historic trading and military port-city over the centuries. However, rather obviously in hindsight, it being Sunday yesterday almost all of the churches politely were closed to ‘visitors’ (ß read ‘tourists’) being the day of worship and mass.
So today is the day that I intend to attend church. Many of them! This will be done with the Chorus Card, a ticket essentially to enter 16 of Venice’s prime church sights. Another slight benefit of having bought the Rolling Venice Card is that you can separately purchase the Chorus Card a little cheaper, maybe 6 Euros instead of 9. Yeah, big “Wows!” on that saving…but hey! That’s three trips to the frickin’ toilet in this town people! J
Chiesa di San Giorgio located just by Giudecca on Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore.
First off, a very special church opportunity and right on my doorstep too.
Chiesa (church) di San Giorgio sits on a tiny islet at the south-eastern tip of Giudecca where I am staying. So close you could almost jump over to it, it is just one stop in the right direction on the Linea 2 vaparetto. Not actually one of the 16 churches considered by the municipality to be of principal cultural interest (and so not yet part of the Chorus scheme), it is free to enter and a real, real beauty of a church it is too! It is early morning and largely insensible so far to spiritual inclinations though I am in my life, as the sun climbs the sky, within these white marble colonnaded naves of this church I can almost feel my soul too beginning to awaken, breathe and expand. Impressively scaled religious paintings decorate the walls (several masterpieces by the Jacopo Tintoretto) but the show-stopping reason you REALLY want this church on your list is the trip up the lift into the bell tower for an unsurpassable viewing platform over the cityscape of Venice, the Venetian Lagoon spreading out to the west and the whole of Giudecca visible to the east.
Today is another day of picture perfect weather and as the sun burns brighter and brighter the whole scene is utterly hypnotic. You will spend a loooong time staring in bliss at the wonder of Venice once up here, the myriad different water-borne vehicles and gondolas criss-crossing each other on the waterways like so many nimble little water-beatles below you.
The landmass of Giudecca island (where I stayed) seen from atop Chiesa di San Giorgio
Over to the main body of Venice now as it is here that almost all of the 16 Chorus churches on what I shall refer to as the ‘Chorus Circuit’ reside. So many that I won’t really break it down and bore you to tears. It is nearly sufficient to make you aware that just about every single church in Venice (whether on the ‘Chorus Circuit’ or not) is a historical art treasure trove in its own right.
Each one an individual art gallery-come-place of worship. All beautiful and covered often every inch of every ceiling and wall with masterpieces of painting or sculpture, unblemished (mostly) and in situ. The original works of Venetian and other Italian grand masters as originally commissioned and placed. Quite, quite incredible. Yes the guide books are right, you are likely to incur a sore neck from all the heavenward craning you will do to admire the awe-inspiring ceiling-vault frescoes but it is a price you will happily pay for such a cultural treat. I would say one tip to get the very most out of your time in the Venetian churches would be to bring some binoculars with you so as to get really close to the action. My backpack forbids such luxuries but I will return and try this some day.
I have great fun today - a map vital for the ‘circuit’ - planning my route from church to church.
San Sebastian is rightly well-renowned as one of the real cultural jewels of Venice containing at least 15 masterpieces by Paolo Caliari (better known by the name of Veronese), countless ornate wooden-ceiling paintings and a fabulous organ-housing that likewise is Veronese’d on all available surfaces. An affable, well-travelled American, Russell, had advised me over breakfast at the HI not to bother with San Sebastian right now owing to the extensive internal restoration works currently underway. This program as with so many of its kind throughout Venice is funded by a U.S. based philanthropist organisation and whilst obscuring a good third of the ceiling should in NO way deter you as there is so much of splendour to see in this one church.
The Bacino di San Marco seen from atop Chiesa di San Giorgio
Others - of the near 20 churches I potter in and out of today - that deserve mention are as follows :
1) The huuuge and jaw-dropping Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari that almost serves as a grand frame for Tiziano Vercellio’s (“Yep, that‘s ‘Titian’ to you or I“) masterpiece ‘The Assumption’.
The tomb of the composer Claudio Monterverdi also stands here and almost more spectacular than any of the other points of religious interest within the church is the gigantic white marble sculpted monument to Titian himself, a posthumous cultural honouring.
Um? The immense Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari I think? (CDSMGDF for short.. probably :)
2) Chiesa si San Polo - housing aside from more Veronese the stunning 18 painting ‘Stations of the Cross’ cycle by Giandomenico Tiepolo, housed within the Oratory of the Crucifix depicting in stages Christ’s progress with the cross through to crucifixion and interment in the tomb.
3) San Giovanni Elemosinario - more for its place in physical space and history than its content although there are more fine works by Venetian masters within (Leonardo Coronas & Jacapo Negretti) and another smaller, more sombre Titian altar piece.
It is tucked riiiight away from sight, concealed within the heart of the Rialto market area. Originally founded in 1071 it was destroyed by the great Rialto Market fire of 1514 and rebuilt so tightly woven into the architectural fabric of the crowded new marketplace that even today its entrance is very easily missed. On a second sortie past I spied it concealed behind some stalls selling cheap T-shirts and scalves.
Inside Chiesa di San Giorgio
By this stage I’m becoming aaaall churched out, so it’s time for more gelati and a stroll around. Further exacerbating my cultural overload I feel I can’t pass by an opportunity to spend a couple of hours inside the **** ART GALLERY a large repository of some truly, truly incredible (predominantly again) religious art masterpieces.
This is a fab collection though and should be checked out. Many of them are historic Venetian or Italian church altar pieces etc executed by the Grand Masters of Italian art and brought here over the years for preservation or following their return from other nations.
My time in Venice, heart-breakingly is drawing to a close. I feel I really could stay here for weeks on end and be happy. A similarly potent spell to the one cast upon my soul by Prague has struck me here in Venice but the evening train ticket to Florence is already burning through my wallet, ready and eager to depart even if I am not. BUT I have yet - nearly three days into my stay here - to set foot properly in THE place to go in Venice, Piazza St.
Marco. This is partly through not having realised that there was much more to see than the view of the Palazza Ducalle from the shoreline (“Duh! No Steve, not at all. Not Saint Mark’s Basilica or anything minor like that perhaps?!”) and partly through conscious effort I.e. avoiding as much as possible the infinite signs and guide book implorations that you must end up there. It is the tourist-draw vortex that sucks all human traffic in from all other areas of this beautiful town planner’s nightmare of a city.
And actually I am really glad I did as with my final couple of hours here this provides quite the finale to my stay! St Mark’s Basilica, captivating from the exterior sitting at the eastern end of the piazza is quite breathtaking within.
Gold-chipped mosaic designs adorn vast expanses of the high-vaulted ceilings and large cupola dome (somewhat reminiscent of the Sacré Couer in Paris). The ground floor body of the basilica is free to enter and walk around however portioned off ‘points of interest’ come with small fees once within. The one you will probably want to do most is the Basilica Museum, 5 euros (or near enough) to ascend a narrow stone stairway up to the higher reaches of the basilica. This gains you both fabulous, closer looks at the frescoes and mosaic ceilings as well as access out onto a large rooftop balcony area affording you fabulous views down of Piazza St.Marco and also the Palazza Ducalle and beyond. There are also many things of historical and cultural interest within the museum housed in the upper wings of the basilica here.
So, nearly all done.
I vaparetto it back over to collect my things from the HI on Giudecca but first pop into my final Chorus church, Chiesa Santissimo Redentore the only one residing on this island. This church is a beautifully simple, and aesthetically ‘clean’ church. This is a consequence of historical agreement. This is the votive church of Gesu di Redentore (Jesus the Redeemer) and was constructed after the plague of 1576 - 77 that claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 Venetians. The particular sect of monks that minister to the upkeep of the church requested they would do so for free on the strict pre-condition that the church would not be subject to wealthy patronage in keeping with their non-materialistic ethos. Hence unlike most other of Venice’s churches vast swathes of ego-boosting ‘contributions’ from wealthy Venetians trying to buy their way into posterity or Heaven (or both) have not lead to infinite decorative embellishments and overhauls crowding the original purity of layout over the centuries.
Looking down on St.Mark's Square from the balcony atop St.Mark's Basilica.
Apparently ever since the church’s inception in honour of The Redeemer the church has been used as a reminder of the physical link (the shared mortality if you like) between the peoples of Venice main and Giudecca and a ‘bridge of boats’ between the two land masses is constructed for people to walk across every year, a pilgrimage every 3rd Sunday in July. This must look amazing!
Some weirdo blocking my snap of the Rialto! ;)
As I ready to leave this, my final Venetian church it is about 5 o’clock. Time for evening mass and the church has emptied all but for me, one nun sat in the enormous bank of pews on the left and one monk sat in the right hand set. Outside five kids stand and chat on the church’s white, worn marble steps near the entrance listening to music from a mini hi-fi and I muse that this alone is a much larger congregation out here than that under the vaulted ceiling of the church within.
This probably says something rather pitying (or pitiful) about religion and community today and the relationship between the two.
My final trip up the Grand Canal "sob-sob!" :(
Anyway, it’s time for me to leave this church, Giudecca for the last time and leave this mesmerising city. And how else do you say farewell to Venice people?… why, by cruising all the way up the Grand Canal on the back of a vaparetto aaaaall the way to the train station of course! J