Venice Explorer: Heavenly Churches

people on a gondola
Photo by Chait Goli on

Thanks for joining the Venice Explorer tour.Venice is a city of heavenly churches, in addition to the glorious St. Mark’s Basilica, the city has over 200 churches (100 on the main islands – Centro Storico)

Today we are going to make pilgrimmages to some of Venice’s most serene churches

  • We visited St. Mark’s in a previous post. It is the most iconic church in Venice with its Byzantine-Romanesque style.

Salute Basilica

white and grey cathedral under cloudy blue sky during daytime
Church of Salute

The Church and Basilica of San Salute is a jewel on the edge of The Grand Canal, where it defines the skyline with St. Mark’s.

In 1630, a plague terrorized Venice…Doge Nicolo Contarini made a public vow to erect a church called the Salute in thanksgiving for the Virgin Mary’s divine intercession to rid the city of the plague. Eleven architects took part in the competion to build the church…the winner was Baladassare Longhena.

In 1631, work began on the church and was not completed until 1687. It was Longhena’s life’s work.

It includes gorgeous marble floors and paintings by Titian.
Plan your visit here.

Frari Basilica

Located in the San Polo neighborhood of Venice, The Frari is a minor basilica that honors the Assumption of Mary. Consecrated in 1338, the church is built of brick in the Venetian Gothic style. As with other Franciscan churches the exterior is rather plain…The interior however is spectacular and a must stop for art lovers and the faithful alike.

  • The walls include grant monuments to the distinguished Venetians who are buried in the church, including: Titian, Canova and F. Foscari
  • The Assumption of the Virgin altarpiece by Titian is one of the most beloved of his works paying homage to the story of how Mary was assumed to heaven upon her death.
  • Their is also a work by Donatello in The Frari
  • The church contains the only rood screen still in place in a church in Venice.
    • Rood Screen: An element of a Christian church of the Middle Ages or early Renaissance that is separated from the choir or chancel (area around the altar) from the nave (the area set apart for the laity) 
  • Plan your visit here

Basilica of SS. Giovanni Paolo (Saints John and Paul)

Dating to the 1430s, this large church was designed in the Italian Gothic style and is the principal Dominican churchof Venice. It is dedicated to John and Paul, but ironically not the John and Paul from the Bible, but rather two obscure martyrs of the Early Christian church in Rome. Their names were recorded in the 4th-century.

This is the largest church in Venice (even bigger than St Mark’s, which is hard to fathom)

In 1246, Doge Jacopo Tiepolo had a dream that a flock of white doves were flying over the marshy swampland the church is now built on. He gave the land to the Dominicans. An earlier church was demolished and replaced with this church beginning in 1333, however it was not completed until 1430.

The church is home to the foot of St. Catherine of Siena (the rest of her body is in Rome). St. Catherine is a popular saint for her piety and demand to hold the church accountable. She essentially brokered the deal to move the Pope back to Rome after The Babylonian Captivity (a story for another day). Read more here if you are interested.

In the Catholic-Anglican traditions having a relic of a saint can provide extra graces.

The church is home to Madonna della Pace (Madonna of Peace), which is said to be a miraculous Byzantine image.

Interior of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Venice) – Madonna of Peace by Leandro Bassano

The Church also includes a Renaissance Equestrian Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni (1483) by Verrochio

  • Fun fact: Verrochio was Leonardo da Vinci’s teacher. After he saw Leonardo’s talent, Verrochio quit painting and focused on sculpture.

Plan your visit here

Church of Maddona dell’Orto

This 15th-century church is named after a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary. The church is the resting place of Jacopo Robusti (known as Tintoretto) and his sons.

Tintoretto’s work is featured in the interior of the church.

Madonna dell’Orto (Venice) – Interior – By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli:

Known as ‘the marble church,’ for it’s colored marble facade. This is one of the best examples of early Venetian Renaissance architecture. It was built to house a miraculous icon of The Virgin Mary.

Plan your visit

San Giacomo di Rialto Church:

Said to be the oldest churches in Venice, legend has it that this church was originally built in 421 AD. The church was rebuilt in 1071, prompting the formation of the Rialto market in front of the church (Campo San Giacomo). This area became a mini Wall Street. The system with the “bill of exchange” was introduced in the market near the church, as clients went with such a bill of exchange with a credit incribed from one banker to another.

The church survived a massive fire which destroyed the area in 1503. In 1601 it was renovated to protect it from the acqua alta (high waters)

The clocktower on the church is one of the oldest in Venice!

Church of San Zaccaria

Built in the 15th-century as a monastery, San Zaccaria is home to the body of St. Zachariah, the father of St. John the Baptist. The site has had a church on it since at least circa 800 when it was an Benedictine monastery of nuns. The abbess was usually related to the doge.

The interior of the church is Gothic and features one of the most famous works by Giovanni Bellini – The San Zaccaria Altarpiece.

The walls of the aisles and chapels have paintings by other masters like Andrea del Castagno, Vecchio, Tintoretto, Porta, Giovane, Anthony van Dyck, Celesti and many more.

Plan your visit

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

  • Located on one of the islands of Venice (San Giorgio Maggiore)…The first church was built in 790…the island was given to the Benectictine order by the Doge…the church thrived until an earthquake destroyed in in 1223…
  • The Chruch was rebuilt shortly after, but as early as 1521 the monks considered rebuilding it.
  • In 1560, architect Palladio was asked to prepare a new model for the church. It was completed in 1589 (nine years after Palladio’s death)
  • The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a favorte to visit given its island location and beautiful scenery. Monet painted the area heavily during his trip to Venice.
  • If you are looking for a day trip to the island I recommend checking out Viator – they usually have good tours.
Monet’s interpretation of San Giorgio Maggiore

Next time we’ll get to know Venice’s unique neighborhoods, before we say arrivederci and hit the road to Padua and beyond.

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The purpose of American Nomad is to get you excited about travel, history, art and culture. It is written 100% by a human (Adele L.) (which I joke about in this AI generation).

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