This page is dedicated to the “15 Most Interesting Churches of Venice.” Here you will find my list of Venetian churches, ones that I would want to visit upon going to Venice. Whether they are known for their art, architecture, location, or just the story behind their consecration, these 15 are the most worth visiting in my opinion! Enjoy!
1. Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Also known in the Venetian dialect as San Zanipolo, The Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo is an impressive church built in the Venetian Gothic style. Many anecdotes about this church exist, however the prevailing one is a story of Doge Jacopo Tiepolo (who is buried within the church), and his dream of doves flying with crosses on their necks around a new church in Venice. As a result of this dream, Doge Tiepolo donated some swampland to the Dominicans to build a church. Within The Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, 25 Doges are now buried. The church is known for its impressive and ornate tombs, especially the ones by sculptor, Pietro Lombardo and his brother, Tullio Lombardo. Works by painters Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Veronese and Alvise Vivarini are some of Santi Giovanni e Paolo’s most treasured works.
2. Basilica dei Frari (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari)
The Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, or Frari , as it is more affectionately called, is a basilica parish church of the San Polo- Santa Croce- Dursoduro vicariate. The church was built in 1250 by the Franciscans, however it was not until 1338, when the church was actually completed. Dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, the Frari has minor basilica status. The Frari contains a vast collection of paintings and sculpture by Italian artists such as Giovanni Bellini’s famed Madonna and Child with Saints Nicholas of Bari, Peter, Mark and Benedict altarpiece in the sacristy. There is also the Monument to Antonio Canova, which was originally designed by Canova for the tomb of Titian. Paolo Savelli’s Condotierre, whch was the first Venetian equestrian monument, is also present.
3. The Church of Santa Maria Formosa
The Church of Santa Maria Formosa was erected in 1492, by Renaissance architect Mauro Codussi. It was built on the site of a 7th century church which was one of the 8 founded by San Magno, bishop of Oderzo. It’s name, Formosa, refers to the appearance in a vision of the Virgin Mary disguised as a voluptuous woman. Despite the fact that the church was damaged by an Austrian bomb in 1916, miraculously, the works inside are unharmed. The church is designed in a Latin cross pattern, with a nave and two aisles. There are two very different and distinct facades, a Renaissance facade (1592), which faces the nearby channel, and a Baroque facade (1604), which faces a square. Some notable paintings within the church are: Leondro da Bassano’s The Last Supper (1578), Palma The Elder’s St. Barbara polyptych (1525) and Giambattista Tiepolo’s Madonna with Child and St. Dominic.
4. Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is located on an island east of the Guidecca and the main island group. By 829, this land had been consecrated to St. George, and was designated to be the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The San Giorgio Monastery was established in 982, when the Benedictine monk, Giovanni Morosini, asked Doge Tribuno Memmo to donate the whole island for a monastery. After the monastery, architect Andrea Palladio built the church in 1556. After the Venetian empire fell, the island became a free port and a harbor was built in 1812. Today, the island now is home to the headquarters of the Cini Foundation Arts Centre, which is known for its library. The church houses some important works by Jacopo Tintoretto, including The Deposition (1594), Shower of Manna from Heaven (1592), and The Last Supper (1594). The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is also well known for its Renaissance facade by Palladio.
5. The Church of San Giacomo di Rialto
According to tradition, The Church of San Giacomo di Rialto would be the oldest church in Venice! Supposedly consecrated in the year 421, the first document mentioning the church comes from the year 1152. It was restored in 1601 by the order of Doge Marino Grimani after the area was destroyed by a fire in 1503. Plagued by the constant flooding of the Rialto region, the floor of the church was also raised in 1513, as one of the many restoration projects the church underwent.
6. The Church of Santa Maria della Salute
The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, or Salute, is a Roman Catholic church and a minor basilica consecrated in the year 1681. It is located in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice. It is considered one of the “Plague Churches” because of the deadly plague outbreak of the 1630’s, and is rightfully named “Salute” in its dedicated to Our Lady of Health and Deliverance. The church is designed in the Baroque style by architect, Baldassare Longhena. Many of the art objects within the church bear the reference to the Black Death. Longhena designed the church in the shape of a crown, worthy of the Blessed Virgin. Salute is an striking example of the Palladian classicism, and the dome is not only reminiscent of a crown, but also of an inverted chalice.
Within the church is a large collection of the works of the artist Titian. Those works include:
–The Descent of the Holy Ghost (1545)
–St. Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas, Damian, Sebastian and Roch (1510)
-Ceiling paintings of David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac, and Cain and Abel
There is also a beloved Byzantine icon of the Madonna and Child by an unknown artist. It is known as the Panagia Mesopantitissa (Madonna the Negotiator)
7. Cattedrale di Torcello (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta)
The Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, or Torcello as it is called, since it lies on the island of Torcello, is known for its outstanding 11-12th century Byzantine mosaics. According to an ancient inscription, it was founded by Exarch Isaac of Ravenna in 639. Technically, since there is no bishop, it is not a cathedral, but it is still called that. There are beautiful Byzantine mosaics of The Madonna and Child on the apse dome, and a Last Judgement scene on the west wall.
8. The Church of San Giovanni in Bragora
San Giovanni in Bragora is a Venetian church located in the sestiere of Castello. the church was founded during the 8th century by St. Magnus of Oderzo to house the alleged relics of St. John the Baptist, to whom the church was dedicated to. Pope Paul II and Antonio Vivaldi were both baptized here. The church was renovated from 1475-1505, where the basilica plan was kept, but a brick facade in the late Gothic style was added. The term bragora, is unclear; it can either refer to the campo facing the square or from the Venetian dialect. Bartolomeo Vivarini’s famous Madonna and Child with Saints triptych (1478) is displayed within the church.
9. Santa Maria della Visitazione (Pieta)
The Church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, or Pieta, as it is more commonly known as, is a prominent church in the Castelllo sestiere of Venice. Its facade is on the riva degli Schiavoni, which is a short promenade from the Doge’s Palace. It is the church associated with the painter Antonio Vivaldi and his young female musicians. The Church of Santa Maria della Visitazione was built from 1745-1760, adjacent to the site of the Ospedale della Pieta. Designed by Giorgio Massari, the facade remained incomplete until 1906, when it was completed, but without the original statues that would project from the roof. Works by Tiepolo, Giambattista Piazzetta, and Alessandro Bonvicino are displayed inside.
10. Church of Madonna dell’ Orto
The Church of Madonna dell’ Orto is a church located in the sestiere of Cannaregio. The church was supposedly constructed by the now-defunct 14th century religious group, the Humiliati. It was initially dedicated to St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, but now it is dedicated to the Holy Virgin, as its name suggests. It is said to have received its name when a miraculous statue of the Madonna, commissioned by the Church of S. Maria Formosa, was brought to the church from a nearby orchard (orto, in Italian) where it had been kept. In 1339, a restoration project by Maggior Consiglio was financed. The Humiliati were ousted in 1462, and the church was assigned to the congregation of Regular canons of St. George. In 1787, the church came under public administration. The church contains numerous works of art and sculpture, as well as the burial place of Tintoretto.
11. Church of San Zaccaria
The Church of San Zaccaria is just off the waterfront from St. Mark’s Basilica, and is dedicated to St. Zacharias, the father of St. John the Baptist. The church supposedly contains the body of St. John the Baptist as one of its relics. The church is a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic styles. Antonio Gambello, the original architect, first designed the church in the Gothic style, though the upper part of the facade and parts of the interior were completed by Marco Codussi in the early Renaissance style. The outside of the church is Renaissance, however the interior is entirely in the Gothic style. The Church of San Zaccaria was originally part of a monastery of Benedictine nuns particularly respected by the Doges of the city. Many works of Gothic art such as Giovanni d’ Alemagna’s Gothic Polyptych (1443-1444) are featured inside.
12. Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli
The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, in the sestiere of Cannaregio, is a beautiful example of the early Venetian Renaissance style. It is known as the “Marble Church” for its colored marble. It has a circular pediment, a false colonnade on the exterior walls, pilasters, and circular facade windows, which are all hallmarks of the Venetian Renaissance style. It was built between 1481 and 1489 by Pietro Lombardo to house a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. The interior contains a wide barrel vault, with a single nave and a marble staircase descending between the two pulpits.
13. Basilica del Santissimo Redentore (Church of the Holy Redeemer)
The Basilica del Santissimo Redentore, or Church of the Holy Redeemer, as it is better known as, is a church designed by Andrea Palladio in 1577 on the island of Guidecca. On the occassion of the Feast of the Redeemer in Venice, on the 3rd Saturday in July, the church becomes a symbol of rebirth. After the plague decimated much of Venice’s population, the Senate commissioned Andrea Palladio to erect a church in honor of life over death. The basilica was appointed to the Capuchins, who asked that no one be buried within, so as not to betray the spirit of poverty and simplicity. The facade boasts a typical Palladian style, while the interior is reminiscent of a classical temple. Veronese’s Baptism of Christ (1560) is displayed inside.
14. Church of San Sebastiano
The Church of San Sebastiano is a 16th century Roman catholic church located in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice. It is particularly notable for its cycle of paintings by the artist Paolo Veronese. San Sebastian dates back to 1455, but it was not consecrated until nearly a century later when it was completed by architect, Scarpagnino. It is seen today as a unique temple for Veronese’s art. It is also regarded as one of the great “Plague Churches” of Venice. It is dedicated to St. Sebastian, who was a martyr to the causes against the plague and pestilence. Verona-born painter Paolo Veronese spent from 1555-1570 decorating parts of the interior of the church.
15. Church of I Gesuiti
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta, also known as I Gesuiti is a church in the sestiere of Cannaregio, in the Campo dei Gesuiti. The construction of the church was financed by Cleto Gussoni in 1148, who drained the marshes and in 1154, turned it into a hospital for the poor. When St. Ignatius visited the church with his followers, the Jesuits, or Gesuiti in Italian, they eventually established themselves at the church. Paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and funeral monuments by Gerolamo Campagna can be found within the church.
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Humfrey, Peter. The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.
Huse, Norbert. The Art of Renaissance Venice, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Norwich, John Julius. A History of Venice, New York City: Alfred A. Knopf Inc, 1982.