Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Castle in Venice? San Pietro di Castello

Basilica of San Pietro di Castello
(Venice, Italy) The Basilica of San Marco is Easter headquarters here in Venice, but it wasn't always that way. Before there was a basilica in Piazza San Marco, Venice's cathedral was located on San Pietro di Castello, an island off the eastern tip of Venice, orginally called Olivolo. Castello means "castle," and there once was a castle on the Island of Olivolo, which then morphed into the Island of San Pietro di Castello.

Castle of Olivolo by Francesco Nardo (2014)
The first church on the island was built way back in the 7th century and was dedicated to the Byzantine saints Sergius and Bacchus, officers in the Roman army on the Syrian frontier who refused to sacrifice to the pagan god Jupiter because they were Christians, and were martyred for their defiance. The new church dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle was built in the 9th century; the one that stands today dates to the end of the 16th century.

Many years ago, when I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, I wrote a sidebar about the church, which was first published on November 8, 2002. Here it is again, slightly edited:

San Pietro di Castello by Francesco Guardi (1712-93)
INSIDE SAN PIETRO DI CASTELLO

By Cat Bauer

Once the cathedral of the Republic, this church played a central role in Venetian history. San Pietro is situated on the island of Olivolo, a name that, perhaps, originated from the numerous olive trees that once stood there. Doge Pietro Tribuno (888-912) built a castle there for the defense of the city; hence the name "di Castello."

Olivolo was the first settlement in the lagoon and was once the center of religious, commercial and political life in the city. From 775 to 1451, San Pietro was a Diocesan Church under the patriarchy of Grado, a town on the Adriatic Sea north of Venice.

In 1451, the Grado patriarch merged with the Episcopal see of Venice, and Venetian nobleman Lorenzo Giustiniani (1381-1456), who is buried in the church, was named the first Patriarch of Venice. Back in 1433, Pope Eugene IV, who was also Venetian, had made Giustiniani the Bishop of Castello. Pope Alexander VIII (1689-91), who was also Venetian, then made him a Saint.  

St. Lawrence Giustiniani adoring the Baby Jesus by Luca Giordino (17th C)
The current building was started during the time of Patriarch Vincenzo Diedo, dating to 1594-96, and is the result of Andrea Palladio's project, realized years after his death by his follower Francesco Smeraldi. The architect incorporated a family chapel from the late Gothic period that had been commissioned by Bishop Marco Lando (c.1425), who is buried in a tomb in the floor.

The Lando Chapel boasts an impressive ensemble of sculpture and decorative elements spanning an entire millennium. The oldest work of art (dated to between the second and fifth centuries) is a decorative Roman mosaic embedded in the floor in front of the altar. The large marble slab supporting the top of the altar, carved on both sides, is from the ninth century.

Other examples of Veneto-Byzantine architecture are two freestanding columns from the 11th century that were probably part of the old baptistery, flanking a bust depicting San Lorenzo Giustiniani, the first Patriarch of Venice (1381-1456). The mosaic "All Saints" altarpiece is by Arminio Zuccato from a cartoon by Tintoretto. Near the entrance to the Lando Chapel is an altarpiece attributed to Paolo Veronese, "St. John the Evangelist, Peter, Paul."

Madonna and Child with Souls in Purgatory by Luca Giordano (1650)
The prolific Neapolitan artist Luca Giordano painted the brilliantly colored "Madonna of the Carmelites with Souls in Purgatory" inside the Vendramin Chapel. The painting was stolen in 1994, but found six weeks later in a garage in Mestre on the mainland.

Throne of St. Peter, Venice
The "Throne of St. Peter" made of marble with decorations in Arabic patterns and writing from the Koran was probably assembled in the 13th century, and incorporates an Arab funerary stele. Also in the right aisle is Tizanello's "God the Father Eternal in Glory." To the right of the presbytery is Pietro Liberi's masterpiece, "The Plague of Serpents," painted in 1660.

Campanile San Pietro di Castello
The impressive campanile, the bell tower in Istrian stone, was almost completely rebuilt between 1482 and 1488 by Mauro Codussi, who also built the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco.

*********************

Well, I just learned something new when I wrote this post based on an article I had written almost 13 years ago. Lorenzo Giustiniani, the first patriarch, who is buried in the church and was made into a saint, was in power when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. Giovanni Giustiniani (1418-1453) part of the Genoa branch of the family, personally financed, organized and led 700 professional soldiers to Constantinople to help defend the city, but he died after being wounded by an Ottoman cannon. Almost overnight, the Eastern capital of Christianity turned into the Islamic capital of the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople morphed into Istanbul -- and dramatically altered the core of a major Venetian trading partner. Interesting.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Before there was a basilica in Piazza San Marco, Venice's cathedral was located on San Pietro di Castello, an island off the eastern tip of Venice, orginally called Olivolo. Castello means "castle," and there once was a castle on the Island of Olivolo, which then morphed into the Island of San Pietro di Castello.

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