Founded in houses between 1530 and 1534, not until 1542 - 48 did
the sisters move to purpose-built premises, part of a complex including an Augustinian convent and a
hospice for reformed prostitutes and other sexually 'tainted' women. Restoration work on the church later in
the same century was paid for by the merchant Bartolomeo Bontempelli. Originally named for St Mary
it became known as Le Convertite to reflect its role in converting
The institution soon became notorious, however, due to
its rector Fra Giovanni Pietro Leon using the 400 nuns as his personal
harem. He would 'test' the women when they came to confess by fondling
them during confession - if they
resisted he would congratulate them on their resisting temptation. And
then imprison and punish them until they gave in. He was denounced to the Council of Ten in 1561 and beheaded in
Piazza San Marco. It took 13 attempts with the axe, evidently, before his
head was removed with a knife. This was seen as evidence that beheading
was deemed by God as too light a punishment for a man so wicked. and his remains burned.
Suppressed by the French in
1806, the complex became a hospital before the Austrians made it into a
jail in 1857. It is still a women's prison, the entrance is
to the right of the façade in the photo.
On Thursday mornings organic fruit and vegetables grown by the inmates in
the prison gardens are sold from a stall in front of the church. Be
prepared for fighting off sharp-elbowed elderly locals though.
Visible on Merian map (see right).
The church on TV
In an episode of a 2010 Jamie Oliver cookery series Jamie does
he visits the prison, to pick vegetables from their gardens and cook
minestrone soup for some surly inmates.
A detail from the Merian map of 1635
the Convertite complex top centre.
Andrea Palladio/Antonio Da Ponte 1577-92
Fiorenza Corner and Teodosia Scripiana built a church and hermitage
dedicated to Santa
Maria degli Angeli, which was given to Fra Bonaventura degli Emmanueli and
his Capuchins in 1541. They were expelled five years later by the
heretic Fra Bernadino Ochino, finding refuge in the nearby monastery
of Sant'Angelo, and then returning in 1548 when the monastery was destroyed and
the heretic expelled.
A new church was commissioned from Palladio by the Republic to
commemorate the end of the 1575/6 plague (which killed 50,000 people but which was not
as bad as the one of
1630-31 which took 46,000 people, 30% of Venice’s population, and
which resulted in the building of the Salute).
The church of the Redentore (Redeemer) was built for ceremony,
on the site of the church of San Jacopo. The first stone was laid on May
3rd 1577, with consecration taking place on September 27th 1592.
Palladio's original design was
for a central-plan church like the Pantheon, but this was rejected for
being too pagan. What was
eventually built is more longitudinal and reckoned to be Palladio's finest church.
completed in 1592 by Da Ponte following Palladio's death in 1580. The
high and wide staircase and the huge doorway are designed for
processions and the church is made to be seen from afar - the best view (right) being from the Zattare
opposite. The attached monastery later became a barracks.
The Festival of the Redentore, giving thanks for the end of the plague,
continues. Every year on the third Sunday in July a bridge on barges is
built from the Zattere so that Venetians can make the pilgrimage
previously lead by the Doge and the Signoria. The festival is also famous
for the fireworks the night before.
The high and wide (15 step) stairway leads up to a facade which
reflects the interior - the central three bays under the large pediment
echo the nave, with the wings representing the depth of the side chapels.
In the niches either side of the single entrance are statues of St Mark
and St Francis. A lead-covered wooden statue of The Redeemer
is on top of the dome's lantern. On top of the facade are Faith and
two angels, with St Anthony of Padua and St Laurence Giustiniani
flanking them lower down. All very Franciscan in choice of subjects.
An unusually uncluttered interior, mostly because the church was built on
a site belonging to Capuchin monks, a very reformed branch of the
Franciscan Order, who agreed to take it on providing
their observance of vows of poverty was respected. So, no extravagance, no remunerative funerary masses
and monuments, and one elegantly unembellished interior. Monumental, high, pale and
airy (due to the many thermal windows) and very Palladian. The wide and aisleless
nave has a barrel vault and three connected barrel-vaulted chapels on each side. Over the chancel there's a balustraded dome, and there are two side apses
which contain no altars and were built so that the Doge and Signoria
could sit unobserved by the common herd. The friar's choir is behind a
curved screen of columns behind the high altar.
There's some middling art (the two Tintorettos are 'school of' and the
'school of' Veronese looks very like a Tintoretto) so even a Palma Giovane
Deposition stands out a bit. The Veronese Baptism of Christ
was commissioned during the artist's lifetime but finished and signed by
his brother Benedetto and the studio. In fact the altarpieces in all six nave
chapels (the other two are by Francesco Bassano) have a unifying
Tintoretto aspect to them. These chapels tell the life of Christ, in an
anti-clockwise direction, from birth to ascension, with a crucifix over
the high altar. This crucifix, by Gerolamo Campagna, is flanked by statues
of Saint Mark and Saint Francis, symbolising the partnership between the
state and the Capuchins. They are by the same sculptor.
The not-often-open sacristy, unmentioned on
info sheet, and barely mentioned on the church's own leaflet, is a
definite highlight. It is accessed through the last chapel in the nave on
the right. A lot of paintings mostly of
the Madonna and Child, including one I especially liked by Rocco
Marconi, another by Alvise Vivarini, another Palma Giovane, and a
Baptism by Veronese. Also lots of reliquaries and twelve creepy 18th
century wax heads of Franciscan saints under glass domes, complete with
real hair and Murano-glass eyes.
Francesco Bissolo, a pupil of Giovanni Bellini, painted Christ
exchanging the crown of thorns for a crown of gold with St. Catherine
for the Redentore, it is now in the Accademia.
Campanile 48m (136ft) electromechanical bells
Two minaret-like towers
The church in art
Il Redentore, an oil painting by Duncan Grant, 1948.
The Church of the Redentore by Canaletto (see left) from the
Manchester Art Gallery. The demolished church of San Giacomo della
Giudecca is visible to the right.
The Depositing of John Bellini's Three Pictures in the Church of
the Redentore, Venice by J.M.W. Turner shows the three Bellini
paintings arriving in splendid procession in gondolas. This almost
definitely never happened, especially as the paintings in question, which were also mentioned in George Eliot's
Journals in 1864 and William Dean Howells' Venetian Life of
1866 (see below) and by Ruskin, have since been reattributed to Bellini-pupil
Francesco Bissolo and
It contains three interesting John Bellinis, and also, in the sacristy,
a most beautiful Paul Veronese.
William Dean Howells wrote
Giudecca produces a variety of beggar, the most truculent and
tenacious in all Venice, and it has a convent of lazy Capuchin friars who
are likewise beggars. To them belongs the church of the Redentore, which
only the Madonnas of Bellini in the sacristy make worthy to be seen.
Monday to Saturday: 10.00 to 5.00
A Chorus Church
The church of San Jacopo which was
demolished to build the Redentore.
Photo above by Albert Hickson.
Named after the Venetian-born bishop who sailed
from San Giorgio Maggiore to convert the Hungarians in the 10th century.
His duties there included the education of Saint Emeric of Hungary, the
son of Saint Stephen of Hungary. He was martyred in Budapest on a hill now
named after him. It is said that he was placed on a 2-wheel cart, hauled
to the top of the hill and rolled down, but still being alive at the
bottom he was beaten to death. Other versions say he was put in a spiked
barrel and rolled down the hill. He was canonized in 1083, along with St.
Stephen and St. Emeric, and is one of the patron saints of Hungary.
His remains were buried in Santi
Maria e Donato on Murano and the urn brought to San Giorgio Maggiore every
hundredth anniversary of his departure from that church to spend a night
there. This is a brutally (bunkerly?) modern church built amongst the modern
flats on the Sacca Fisola.
Photo by Ryan Kasler
San Giorgio Maggiore
this church now has its own page
Founded in 865 and initially dedicated to four female saints - Euphemia, Dorothy, Tecla and Erasma, but as time passed the first saint's
name came to dominate. The church became known colloquially as Famia
and was renovated in 952. Reconsecrated in 1371 after rebuilding and
renovated in the second half of the 16th century and again in the
mid-18th, when it acquired new altars and the stucco decoration to the
interior on the upper walls and ceiling.
The portico along the side (visible in the photo right) is by
Michele Sanmicheli and was donated by Giovanni Stucky in 1883. It dates from 1596 and was actually designed as the choir of
the church of Santi Biagio e Cataldo, which was demolished to make way for
the Stucky mill (now a swanky hotel) nearby. The 14th century
Crucifixion above the main door comes from this demolished church too.
Retains its Veneto-Byzantine form despite later restorations and
decoration, with some columns and capitals dating from the 11th
A surprising interior which has an old shell below, with old columns,
that contrasts strongly with the flouncy rococo decoration above -
all white, pale green and gilding. This effect is accentuated by the
plaster on the lower part of the walls having been mostly chipped away to
reveal the rough brickwork.
The paintings around the chancel are
uninspiring works by some followers of Veronese. Ceiling frescoes by Giambattista
Canal, a follower of Tiepolo. The art highlight is
Saint Roch and the Angel by Bartolomeo Vivarini (originally the
central panel of a triptych which also featured Saint Sebastian and Saint
Louis) with a lunette above of The
Virgin and Child, both restored in 2008. There's also a Morleiter
statue of The Pieta,
where the body of Christ rests on a rock rather than in the usual maternal
lap. This church's factsheet tells us that The Birth
of Christ and The Adoration of the Magi by Marieschi are 'no
longer in place'.
Campanile 10m (33ft) electromechanical bells
The current tower dates from the mid-18th
century, restored in 1883. A drawing by Canaletto
around 1730 shows it once had a taller one with a sugar-loaf spire. As
does a detail from a map of 1635 (right).
Mon-Sat: 8.00-12.00 and
Interior photo above by David Orme
The church and convent were founded in the 13th century, it is
said, with the first documented mention in 1322. Eufamia
Giustiniani, an abbess here from 1440 to 1487 and was made a saint in 1465. She was also the
niece of Lorenzo Giustiniani, the bishop of San Pietro di Castello and
later the first patriarch of Venice. While she was
abbess only four nuns died in the plague of 1446 and a knight who turned
up at the door and asked for water was later identified as having been Saint
Sebastian himself, so the well here was renamed after him and the waters were said
to have miraculous powers.
Prosperity and growth lead to the the church being rebuilt 1508-11, with a façade in the Tuscan style by an architect
going by the name of Maestro Pellegrini. This is the church we see today.
The church and convent were suppressed in 1806 with the nuns moving to San
Zaccaria and the complex becoming a prison. I have also read that it was
later used by an old people's home. Quite recently restored, it is
currently being used for storage by the Venetian public records office.
Visible on the Merian map of 1635 (see right).
S. Antonio da Padova, S. Eliodoro and S. Filippo Neri by Antonio
Zanchi now in San Pietro Martire on Murano, supposedly.
Ceiling photo by
Cosma e Damiano
Mauro Codussi? 1498
A convent was established here in 1481 by a Benedictine nun called
Marina Celsi, who had been abbess at San Matteo on Murano and of
Sant'Eufamia on Mazzorbo. The first stone was laid in 1491, with work
completed in 1498. Consecrated in 1583, it is said that Mauro Codussi may
have had a hand in the design of the church, he having been working at the time on San
Michele in Isola and San Zaccaria, also for Benedictines.
Upon suppression by Napoleon in 1806 the nuns moved to San Zaccaria.
The church was stripped and became a warehouse, a barracks, and in 1887 a hospice for
cholera victims. Sold in
1897 to the Herion Brothers who converted it into a textile factory (see
interior photo below left), which it remained until the 1970s.
The church was restored quite recently for use as an enterprise centre offering office
space to small businesses, the convent buildings having been long since converted to
A fresco in the dome of the chancel of The Virgin with Female Saints
Girolamo Pellegrini is supposedly still in place.
Giambattista Tiepolo's Punishment of the Serpent now in the
Accademia - the long thin painting in Room 11 that was left rolled up for
60 years (and boy does it look it!) - was originally displayed under the choir
at the back of this church. It was one of a cycle of paintings filling the
church in the 17th and 18th century and eliciting much contemporary
praise. Charles de Brosses praised many of the paintings and Coronelli in
his 1744 guide said 'Here can be seen very many Paintings all by famous
Artists, and these paintings deserve to be seen'. These included four
paintings by Zanchi and one by Antonio Molinari, long lost.
Also three by
Sebastiano Ricci - Solomon Speaking to the People at the Dedication of
the Temple, now in the Duomo in Thiene, Moses striking water from
the Rock at Horeb, now in the Cini Foundation, and The
Transportation of the Holy Ark, now in the Brera. Thematically the
works are all Old Testament concentrations on the threats to the ancient
Hebrews, which chimed nicely with contemporary worries about the upsurge
of threats to the Venetian state.
Giovanni Buonconsiglio's Saints Benedict, Tecla and Cosma, now in
the Accademia is part of an altarpiece partially destroyed, perhaps by
fire, here in 1740/41.
The church housed the Tintoretto Madonna and Child with Saints,
originally on the first altar on the left,
also now to be found in the Accademia, and a Crucifixion by him. Also
works by Palma Giovane,
Marascalco, and Padovanino.
The church still has its spire on the Merian map of 1635 (see right).
Once used by the military, later as a hostel for the homeless. Currently being used as studio space
by an art foundation.
The church in art
The church appears in Giudecca, a watercolour by John Singer
Sargent. Venice a watercolour view by Clara Montalba in the Walker
Art Gallery in Liverpool features this church's singular campanile. A card
bought from the Lo Verso shop on Giudecca in 2015 is, I think, the view of
this church and its campanile from in front of Le Convertite (see right).
Nuns and Reform Art in Early Modern Venice by Benjamin Paul
A photo taken whilst the church was in use
as a textile factory.
That's the upper part of the chancel and two side chapels in the
A photo from the late 19th century showing
windows, including the lunettes down the side.
The church of Santa Maria della Presentazione is better known as Le
Zitelle, or The Spinsters, since the convent here ran a hospice (founded
by a group of Venetian noblewomen in 1559) for 'beautiful girls'
from poor families whose beauty was thought to put them in danger of falling into prostitution.
A prevention regime, than, as opposed to the nearby Convertite's concentration on helping
already-fallen women. Poor
young virgins were taken in, some as young as 12, and trained in lace and music making. They were kept protected until they were
18, when they could choose between marriage or the nunnery. If they chose
marriage a husband was found and a dowry was provided. The
church was designed by Palladio around 1576 for a different site and built
by Jacopo Bozzetto from 1581-88.
The Palladian façade is flanked by the wings of the convent. The buildings
extend around the back and the cloister is behind the church. The convent
is now a luxury hotel.
A small barrel-vaulted vestibule leads to a square nave. The choir
galleries were reached from the flanking convent buildings.
Palma Giovane is represented as is Francesco Bassano, one of the four
sons of the better known Jacopo.
The church in art
The Giudecca with the Zitelle by Franceso Guardi, in the National
Gallery in London.
Another version (see above right) is to be found in
the Kunsthaus Zurich.
For mass only: Sundays 10.00-12.00