Santa Maria Maddalena
San Gerardo Sagredo
San Giorgio Maggiore
Santi Cosma e Damiano
Le Zittele Santa Maria della Presentazione
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 Magdalene it became known as Le Convertite to reflect its role in converting 'fallen' women.
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.
A detail from the Merian map of 1635
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. It was 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 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.
The church of San Jacopo which was
Photo above by Albert Hickson.
Photo by Ryan Kasler
Interior photo above by David Orme
The church and convent were founded in the 13th Century. Eufamia Giustiniani, an abbess here, was made a saint in 1465. She was also the niece of Lorenzo Giustiniani, 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.
The church was rebuilt 1508-15, with a façade in the Tuscan style by an architect going by the name of Maestro Pellegrini.
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
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 housing.
A fresco in the dome of the chancel of The Virgin with Female Saints by Girolamo Pellegrini is supposedly still in place.
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.
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.
A photo taken whilst the church was in use
as a textile factory.
A photo from the late 19th Century showing
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
Cannaregio :: Castello :: Dorsoduro :: Giudecca :: San Marco :: San Polo :: Santa Croce :: The Islands :: Demolished